Best Theatre of the Year - Looking Back At L.A.’s 2019

I give to you my personal list of the best theatre Los Angeles offered in 2019, with a few swipes at the less of the best….

First off, the production of August Wilson’s Jitney at the Mark Taper Forum. Wilson’s works share a distinction with those of Shakespeare, in that when the plays of either are fortunate enough to be housed in a production of true artistry one finds theatre nirvana, which is what director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and cast provided L.A. audiences with.

The cast —Steven Antony JonesFrancois BattisteAmari CheatomNija OkoroRay Anthony ThomasHarvy BlanksKeith Randolph SmithBrian D. Coats, and Anthony Chisholm returning to the role which earned him a Drama Desk Award and Obie in 2000’s off-Broadway production— performed as keys on a perfectly tuned piano, with  Santiago-Hudson assuring not one false note was sounded.

Contributing to this perfect harmony were David Gallo’s set, Jane Cox’s deft light design and Toni-Leslie James’ superlatively unobtrusive costumes.


In six short years the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts has won L.A.’s appreciation for the work produced and Artistic Director Paul Crewes its respect for his guidance.

This year that appreciation and respect were given further validation: The Old Man and the Old Moon by the PigPen Theatre Company, was an intoxicating entwining of old world folklore, Arabian night tales and the poetic arts of a Celtic seanchaís resulting in an evening of wondrous magic which is the essence of theatre.


Some twenty-five years ago at the old Tiffany Theatre on Sunset Boulevard, the marvelous Hershey Felder presented his first solo show based on the life of a great composer.  Having previously brought Chopin and Beethoven to the Wallis, this year Felder returned again— and again was…well, marvelous.

Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story, are the reminiscences of his first youthful journey to Paris which are placed as a palimpsest in homage to his favorite composer Achille-Claude Debussy.  Directed by Trevor Hay it was perhaps the most enchanting show of the season.


We have the Wallis to thank for Renée Taylor’s one-woman show, My Life on a Diet Best known to movie lovers as Eva Braun in Mel Brooks’ The Producers (1968) and to TV viewers as Fran Drescher’s mother on the CBS sitcom The Nanny, Taylor, with her late husband Joseph Bologna, co-wrote the Oscar nominated Lovers and Other Strangers as well as two additional screenplays and 21 more plays.

It was a privilege and a joy to be in the company of the 86 year old Taylor who is a juggernaut of talent as well as a living history of both Broadway and Hollywood, and, personally, I wanted her show to go on longer than its 90 minutes.

Like a week longer.  Maybe two.


The Wallis also deserves thanks for bringing back talented David Mynne, whose one-man presentation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations was one of last year’s high-water mark.

A Christmas Carol, this year’s Dickens offering, was less satisfying but Mynne’s performance was nevertheless amazing to watch.


The Fountain Theatre, which I regard as one of the jewels in the crown of the L.A. theatre community offered little this year that drew my interest and what did, I’m afraid, I was less than thrilled by.

Idris Goodwin’s play Hype Man, though not without merit, I found weak and I thought the cast, Clarissa ThibeauxChad Addison and Matthew Hancock and director Deena Selenow, brought more to the play than the play brought to the stage.

Of course, there was no performance of the Forever Flamenco series that I was not enraptured by.  These monthly Juergas of dancers and singers, overseen by Deborah Culver at the Fountain since 1990, I have often heralded as one of the best kept secrets in L.A. and one of its hottest tickets.


The Long Beach International City Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Price was a show one should regret if missed.

David Nevell as a man who sees in the wreckage of his father’s life the failure of his own, and Elyse Mirto as the wife who sees her husband’s true worth but is unable to make him believe it, were each outstanding.

In the most Biblical referenced of Miller’s plays, Bo Foxworth’s layered performance as the prodigal son allowed the audience to see that the chains forged by his choices were as heavy as those of his brother.

As the secondhand furniture dealer Mister Solomon, which is the heartbeat of the play, Tony Abatemarco fluctuated adroitly between the Old Testament’s wise Solomon and Faust’s wheeling-dealing Mephistopheles.

I find director John Henry Davis to be rather hit or miss, but with The Price he undeniably knocked one out of the stadium.

DoubleDouble playwright Guy Zimmerman and director Juli Crockett, by a fusion of the 1944 noir classic Double Indemnity with Shakespeare’s Scottish play, successfully brought another artistic chimera to the stage.

Zimmerman and Crockett juggled snippets of dialogue and hints of shared motifs, transforming a trio of Barbara Stanwyck doppelgangers  (Henita TeloJenny Greer and Isabella Boose) into a Greek Chorus to warn  Saughn Buchholz as Walter-Walter of the fate awaiting his Oedipus MacMurray.

From concept to execution, this production had the luster that craft and intelligence brings; sharing in the credit for this are scenic designer Melissa Ficociello and Michael Feldman’s ballads.


Bill Irwin’s On Beckett was perhaps more lecture than show, but what a subject to lecture on and what a lecturer to hear.  Having been a fan of Bill Irwin since his Old Hats and Fool Moon days, what I found so extraordinary in his discourse/performance/dissertation/sermon on the works of the great Irish playwright on the stage at Kirk Douglas Theatre, was Irwin’s ability to delve into those “linguistic non-spaces” Beckett supplies, and weave relevance into those silences found there.


Playwright Lauren Gunderson is the current “flavor of the month” from the New York theatre scene.  I find most of her works “vanilla” at best.  But there are a couple of her plays which, while not on the level of “Chocolate Therapy,” come close to “Chunky Monkey” status.

Ada and the Engine is one.  It tells the story of the rakish Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada, and her contribution to the development of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, precursor to the modern computer.  In their staging, Theatre Unleashed emphasized the play’s strengths while cloaking its weaknesses, resulting in a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging production.

As the two dominant men in Ada’s life —William King-Noel, later Lord Lovelace and the driven Charles Babbage— Gregory Crafts and Alex Knox gave faultless performances.  But it was Jessie Sherman in the titular role that captured the audience and herded them on the pathway from the joys of dreams to the price paid for them.

Director Heidi Powers enriched the production by her employment of Denise Barrett’s costumes and use of Kevin Hilton’s animation which shattered the black box’s confines by expanding the vista of ideas.

Less successful, but certainly more frenzied was the Theatre Unleashed production of Never Ever Land by playwright Rider Strong, centering on the allegations against Michael Jackson’s involvement with underaged boys.  Director Michael A. Shepperd applied cunning and skill but was only moderately successful in masking the play’s faults.  On the other hand, Josh Randall as the “abused” lad’s manipulating father and Leif Gantvoort as the unctuous news commentator after a story turned in exceptional performances.


As a former puppeteer, I admit I was a sucker for Les Miz And Friends! A Puppet Parody and my hearty guffaws filled the Hudson Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Nathan Makaryk and Geneviève Flati co-directed their “re-envisioning” of Les Misérables, the much beloved musical based on Victor Hugo’s much renowned classic.  The crushing poverty, sexual exploitation, brutal police and civil bloodshed are still there, they just added a ton of puppets and screwed with the songs.

Performer-puppeteers Kelly RogersKevin GarciaGabrielle JacksonJaycob HunterHailey Tweter and Carter Michael kept the laughter coming, as did Christopher Robert Smith as Javert.

The production was packed with silly puns and dopey jokes, but what came as a total surprise, at least to me, was the quality of the cast’s musical chops.  Some credit for this must go to “musical accompaniment, Orchestrator and Arranger” David Norris.  Here’s hoping Makaryk and Flati set their satirical sights on another classic of the musical theatre.


I did manage to see Rogue Machine’s Disposable Necessities in their new space in Santa Monica.  Playwright Neil McGowan has conceived a clever work akin to an old “slam-door” comedy where an actor would rush out as one character to re-enter as another seconds later.  But, McGowan does away with the “doors” by setting his work in a protean near future when bodies are changed with wardrobe like ease.  The device supplies the show with laughs, but also with difficulties.  Claire Blackwelder isn’t up to the demands of conveying the persona of an elderly chauvinistic lecher dwelling in young lady with a body worthy of Vargas’ watercolors.  Nor does Jefferson Reid have the acting apparatus to conjure the reality of a spoiled white boy deposited into the body a black urban teen; the rest of the cast, Billy FlynnDarrett Sanders and the always superb Ann Noble, having the benefit of experience turn in stellar performances.

We look forward to what Rogue Machine and Artistic Director John Perrin Flynn have in store for us in 2020.


The Judas Kiss by British playwright David Hare travels the oft-treaded ground of Oscar Wilde’s disgrace following the infamous trial for libel he foolishly instigated against the father of his young lover Boise.

Director Michael Michetti’s production at The Boston Court was lushly mounted with sets by designer Se Hyun OhDianne K. Graebner’s costumes, and lighting design by David Hernandez, but all the lushness could not conceal the piece’s anemia of dramatic tension.
Some atonement was found in the performances of Darius De La Cruz as Robbie Rose, Wilde’s most stouthearted friend and that of Colin Bates as the self-centered Boise.
But it was the sincerity and depth of humanity which Rob Nagle brought to the role of Wilde that served as the most memorable feature of a rather forgettable show.


The Hollywood Fringe Festival held every June along the strip of Santa Monica Blvd running from Highland Avenue to Vine Street should be a seasonal Mecca for the creative souls of this city and those with any reverence towards the arts.  HFF 2019 boasted a total of 405 individual productions and sold over 67,000 tickets.

Here were the standouts for me:
Mil Grus, featured the absurdly inspired clowning of Helene UdyGrayson MorrisJeremy SappJenson Lavellee and Isaac Kessler under Dean Evans’ direction and took TVO’s “Best of the Fringe.”   The show, along with its five misshapen blobs of bizarre silliness, just opened in New York.

Theatre Unleashed made their presence felt at the Fringe with Tattered Capes by Gregory Crafts, an intelligent and clever account of the marital woes that befall two caped crusaders.  With outstanding performances from Chris ClabaughTravis Joe Dixon and Joanna MercedesCrafts’ play celebrated the superheroes of our childhood while reverberating with deeper questions regarding the secret identities we use in concealing our true selves from those we love.

Designer Denise Barrett provided the super costumes and Corey Lynn Howe’s direction was more powerful than a locomotive.

With Son of A Bitch, Director Billy Ray Brewton fashioned an American Morality play about, to quote my fellow critic David Narine, “Lee Atwater’s  – Republican-Strategist-Liar-Driven-Liar-Brilliant-Liar- Son of a Bitch – rise to power.”

Featuring solid performances by Dennis Gersten as George H.W. Bush, Luke Forbes as “W” and David McElwee as Atwater, playwright, Lucy Gillespie’s work was a much-needed history lesson.

Another political offering at the Fringe was The Mayor’s Debate of Tranquility, Nebraskaa silly and sinister parable on the American electorate.

A local news broadcaster, Emily Dorsett, hosts a mayoral debate in the American heartland.  The candidates include the gay uber-liberal lesbian (Kate Hellen) a Tea-Partier (Lucie Beeby) and the slimy incumbent (Jim Hanna who also penned the script).

The debate goes from glad-handing to backstabbing with gleeful alacrity and the laughs roar out.  But beneath the chortles, Hanna and his cast slip a grim warning; that in this nation today, the “amber waves of grain” are closer to Rod Sterling’s “cornfield.”

Butcher Holler Here We Come written by Casey Wimpee was perhaps the Festival’s most successful immersive piece.  The audience is confined in a room dark as pitch, sharing in the fate of five miners trapped beneath the earth.  Under the astute direction of Leah Bonvissuto, the voices of the unseen miners, Michael MasonIsaac ByrneAdam BelvoMorrison Keddie and Adam Willson, spin about the audience, webbing them in desperation.

Spencer Green’s twisted take on the anthropomorphic beast fables of Aesop, The Scorpion and the Frog, was riotously engaging.  Showcasing the talents of Matthew LeavittChristine Sage and Alex Parker it was hands down one of the Fringe’s most thoroughly enjoyable offerings.

Public Domain the Musicalwhile not perfect, had highpoints that would make your nose bleed. Sam Pasternack (who wrote the book, composed the music, supplied the lyrics and directed) gathered some first-rate performers for this musical ragging of the Disney Corporation’s propensity to squeeze profits from any character in the public domain.  Pasternack uses those public domain icons that Disney overlooked: Oedipus (Max Mahle), The Monkey Paw (Max Ash), Rosie the Riveter (Codi Coates) and…er, Potato Mussolini (Ben Cassil).  Let it be known, costume designer Ember Everett, rose to the occasion.  One of my favorite numbers was Oedipus’ song, “The Way to Become a Hero (is to be at the right place at the right time.)  Were there flaws in the production?  Of course, but it also had a Potato Mussolini!

Solo shows are the stock in trade for any Fringe and HFF 2019 had some extraordinary ones, with the TVO’s “Best Solo Show (Female) going to Raised By Wolves, a cautionary tale about life among alpha-males and evil step-mothers, written and performed by Marla Black.

TVO’s “Best Solo Show (Male) went to Monica Bauer’s Made For Each Other, an astonishingly tender tale staring John Fico as a man who learns that even those in their flabby fifties are deserving of love.

Cathy Schenkelberg arrived at the Fringe with a double whammy for Scientology; first there was Squeeze My Cans, her harrowing one-woman show about the 20 plus years she spent in the cult of L. Ron Hubbard.

Then there was that show’s musical clone Squeeze My Cabaret, in which Schenkelberg related the same tale but showed that she has a pair of pipes on her that could knock the smug superciliousness off Tom Cruise’s puss at twenty yards.

In HFF 2018 Yokko brought her New York based company Ren Gyo Soh with a Japanese Butoh re-fitting of Euripides, Butoh Medea.  This year Yokko turned her efforts on Shakespeare with Hide Your Fires: Butoh Lady Macbeth adapted by Sean Michael Welch and directed by Brian Rhinehart.  Both shows were equally entrancing.

Two excellent productions which deserved greater exposure were Clark Wade-A Jazzy Tragedy, written and performed by Esquizito, AKA EP Perez which drew on memories of New Orleans’ Golden Age;

 And

Stephen Lang’s Beyond Glory based on the recollections of Medal of Honor winners for which Steve Scott took TVO’s “Best Actor” award.

From Ireland came Drought, poetess-songsmith-performer Kate Radford’s haunting indictment of the toxicity of sexual abuse, which TVO acknowledged as the “Best International Show.”

Her true-life tale of a model being afflicted with alopecia was shared by Jannica Olin in (IM)Perfekt. Olin managed to inspire her audiences and at the same time convulse them with laughter.

With Black Boxing, playwright Matt Ritchey held a funhouse mirror to the very concept of solo shows.  Directed by Matthew Martin this raucously funny gem chronicled every pitfall solo shows face.  Fittingly, this send-up of a one-man show featured performances by Ritchey and Jim Niedzialkowski.

Finally, I’ll close with one of the most satisfying shows in HFF 2019, Temple Tantrum, written and performed by Nicole Steinwedell. Raised in a right-wing Christian cult, Steinwedell broke free and plunged into a world diametrically different – Hollywood.  Steinwedell told her tale with the slashes of vibrancy one expects on a Jackson Pollack canvas.

Steinwedell’s dynamism, like the dissonance of a “perfect storm,” may have dissipated into an ineffable silence, but for director Kimleigh Smith who ably applied orchestration to the tempest, assuring awareness of the work’s import and clarity, for which she took TVO’s “Best Director” honors.

Of course the Fringe had disappointments: Olivia Wilde Does Not Survive the Apocalypse, Princess Magic’s Trash Time Revue, and Lincoln 2020.  But these were in a minority.

And the larger L.A. theatre scene had its pratfalls too:

Between Riverside and Crazy, (It won a Pulitzer Prize for drama, just like Enter Madame and Men in White!), Scraps (whose playwright the program told us “never learned to properly write a play.” I buy that.) and The Play That Goes Wrong (which I’m sure would have been much funnier if I hadn’t seen it.)

But these were in a minority as well.

The demands of theatre are arduous, and despite good intentions, dedicated labor and inspired concept, we often fail or falter through our own faults or fate’s callous insensitivity.  This is when we should recall the words of Robert Ingersoll:

“…when men and women belong to a profession
that can count Shakespeare in its number,
they should feel nothing but pride.” ¹

And so I say to all my good friends, to all the stagehands, house managers, dancers, marketing directors, composers, ushers, wardrobe supervisors, directors, set designers, choreographers, carpenters, light board operators, set dressers, producers, sound designers, singers, dramaturges, dialogue coaches, box office agents, fight choreographers, company managers, janitors, make-up artists, musicians, spotlight operators, set builders, technical directors, videographers, dressers, prop masters, parking attendants, playwrights, actors, stage managers, wig makers, publicists, scene painters, critics and most importantly to all who make up our theater, let us join together in 2020 and do what we do best – make magic!

From all of us at theTVolution.com we hope 2020 brings you good fortune, good health and of course, great theatre.


THE BEST OF SHOWS ON BETTER LEMONS IN 2019

Better Lemons had a fantastic year and we couldn't have done it without the fantastic critics, publicists, and audience members who share their love of Los Angeles theater, by posting on Better Lemons and sharing their favorite shows and their reviews on social media.

We are especially grateful for all the Registered Critics who took their time this past year to rate shows they have reviewed to be included in our LemonMeter.

There were 1200 productions registered on Better Lemons in 2019! Out of those registered shows, over 600 received at least one review from a Critic and 201 were reviewed by Audience members. Out of these shows, we selected the winners that were most favored by Critics and/or Audiences.

Here is a list with all the Better Lemons SWEET productions of 2019:

The Better Lemons DoubleSWEET #LemonMeter Choice Awards for 2019
are going to the following productions:

(33 shows out of 1200 productions received
a DoubleSWEET #LemonMeter rating
from audience and critics)

TALES FROM THE POWDER ROOM at the Whitefire Theatre
41 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

IF WE RUN at the Lounge Theatre
32 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

RAISED BY WOLVES at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre
32 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TO DAD WITH LOVE: A TRIBUTE TO BUDDY EBSEN at Theatre West
30 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
14 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

FERTILE: A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE EXPECTATION OF PROCREATION currently at the Whitefire Theatre
27 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
8 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

HOLLYWOODN'T at the Santa Monica Playhouse
20 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

THE BULLY PROBLEM at the Arena Theatre - Theatre of Arts
17 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
9 Critics reviews - 94% Sweet

THE NARCISSIST NEXT DOOR at the Complex Theatre
15 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 75% Sweet

THE ELEPHANT MAN at the El Portal Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 96% Sweet
7 Critics reviews - 93% Sweet

MONO/POLY at the Odyssey Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
5 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

MASTERS OF THE DARK REALM at the Actors Workout Studio
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

BUNNY THE ELF LIVE! currently at the Stages in Fullerton
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

CRACK WHORE, BULIMIC, GIRL-NEXT-DOOR at the Complex Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 96% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

A BIT MUCH at the Lounge Theatre
12 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

(IM)PERFEKT at the Santa Monica Playhouse
11 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
5 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

BLACKBOXING at the Complex Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
5 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

MIL GRUS at the McCadden Place Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
5 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TRANSFERENCE at The Broadwater
9 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
6 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

SCRAPS at the Matrix Theatre
8 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
15 Critics reviews - 87% Sweet

SUPPORTIVE WHITE PARENTS at The Broadwater
8 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

NEIL SIMON'S MUSICAL FOOLS by the Open Fist Theatre Company
7 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
13 Critics reviews - 92% Sweet

ROMEO AND JULIET IN HELL at the Actors Workout Studio
7 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
8 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

FALLEN SAINTS: SALEM at the Actors Workout Studio
7 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
7 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

SAVING CAIN at the Hudson Theatres
6 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
5 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

THE LAST CROISSANT at The Broadwater
5 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
6 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TREYA'S LAST DANCE at the Hudson Theatres
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
10 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

OLIVIA WILDE DOES NOT SURVIVE THE APOCALYPSE at the Complex Theatre
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
6 Critics reviews - 92% Sweet

CLARISSANT at the Atwater Village Theatre
4 Audience reviews - 88% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

CIRQUE DU GISELLE at the Assistance League Theater
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

BATTER UP: MY BRAIN ON BASEBALL at studio/stage
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

JOAN AND WHAT DID THEY SAY - AN EVENING OF ONE ACTS at Theatre Unlimited (T.U. Studios)
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TREASON at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

45 MILLIGRAMS at The Broadwater
3 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

The Better Lemons Audience #LemonMeter Choice Awards for 2019
are going to the following productions:

(32 shows out of 1200 productions received
a minimum of 10 audience reviews
and have received a SWEET #LemonMeter rating by the Audience)

TALES FROM THE POWDER ROOM at the Whitefire Theatre
41 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

IF WE RUN at the Lounge Theatre
32 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

RAISED BY WOLVES at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre
32 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

TO DAD WITH LOVE: A TRIBUTE TO BUDDY EBSEN at Theatre West
30 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

FERTILE: A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE EXPECTATION OF PROCREATION currently at the Whitefire Theatre
27 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

AN EXCUSE TO BEHAVE BADLY at the Lounge Theatre
22 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

HOLLYWOODN'T at the Santa Monica Playhouse
20 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

THE BULLY PROBLEM at the Arena Theatre - Theatre of Arts
17 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

TELENOVELA at the Actors Workout Studio
16 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

AMERICAN STRANGER THE MUSICAL at Studio C
16 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

THE NARCISSIST NEXT DOOR at the Complex Theatre
15 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

MONO/POLY at the Odyssey Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

MASTERS OF THE DARK REALM at the Actors Workout Studio
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

BUNNY THE ELF LIVE! currently at the Stages in Fullerton
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

CRACK WHORE, BULIMIC, GIRL-NEXT-DOOR Complex Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 96% Sweet

THE ELEPHANT MAN at the El Portal Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 96% Sweet

MANDY PICKS A HUSBAND at the Actors Company
13 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

A BIT MUCH at the Lounge Theatre
12 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

ASK A BLACK WOMAN at Studio C
12 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

THANK YOU FOR LOVING ME at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre
12 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

BIRTHDAY at the Actors Company
12 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

(IM)PERFEKT at the Santa Monica Playhouse
11 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

LEAVING PRINCE CHARMING at the Lounge Theatre
11 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

ENERJOYCE...EVOLUTION OF A PISCES BABY BOOMER at the Santa Monica Playhouse
11 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

YES. NO. MAYBE. at the Complex Theatre
11 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

BECOMING PEACE: A ONE WOMAN DRAMEDY ABOUT POWER, CULTURE, VIOLENCE AND NONVIOLENCE at the Lounge Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

CAT SH!T CRAZY...FROM HOT MESS TO HOT MAMA IN FOUR SIMPLE CATS at the Whitefire Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

OCTOPI WALL STREET at the New American Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

EMBRACE LOVE FREE at the Santa Monica Playhouse
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

BLACKBOXING at the Santa Monica Playhouse
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

MIL GRUS at the McCadden Place Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

The Better Lemons Critics #LemonMeter Choice Awards for 2019
are going to the following productions:

(92 shows out of 1200 productions received
a minimum of 10 critic reviews
and have received a SWEET #LemonMeter rating by the Critics)

DANIEL'S HUSBAND at The Fountain Theatre
26 Critics reviews - 96% Sweet

WITCH at the Geffen Playhouse
21 Critics reviews - 93% Sweet

HANDJOB by the Echo Theater Company
21 Critics reviews - 79% Sweet

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at the Ahmanson Theatre
21 Critics reviews - 76% Sweet

THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN by the Antaeus Theatre Company
20 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

SKINTIGHT at the Geffen Playhouse
19 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE by the Antaeus Theatre Company
19 Critics reviews - 97% Sweet

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY at The Fountain Theatre
19 Critics reviews - 79% Sweet

LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS at the Ahmanson Theatre
18 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

MATTHEW BOURNE'S SWAN LAKE at the Ahmanson Theatre
18 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

1776 THE MUSICAL at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
18 Critics reviews - 94% Sweet

BRONCO BILLY - THE MUSICAL at the Skylight Theatre Company
18 Critics reviews - 92% Sweet

AN INSPECTOR CALLS at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
18 Critics reviews - 81% Sweet

DEADLY at the Sacred Fools Theater Company
18 Critics reviews - 75% Sweet

ON BECKETT at the Kirk Douglas Theatre
17 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

HELLO DOLLY at the Pantages Theatre
17 Critics reviews - 97% Sweet

READY STEADY YETI GO at the Rogue Machine Theatre
17 Critics reviews - 82% Sweet

TOO MUCH SUN at the Odyssey Theatre
17 Critics reviews - 82% Sweet

SALVAGE at the Lounge Theatre
16 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

LOOT at the Odyssey Theatre
16 Critics reviews - 91% Sweet

ANNE, A NEW PLAY at the Museum of Tolerance
16 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES at the Geffen Playhouse
16 Critics reviews - 84% Sweet

NICK DEAR'S FRANKENSTEIN at A Noise Within
16 Critics reviews - 78% Sweet

RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL at the Pasadena Playhouse
15 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

INDECENT at the Ahmanson Theatre
15 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
15 Critics reviews - 97% Sweet

DANA H. at the Kirk Douglas Theatre
15 Critics reviews - 97% Sweet

EIGHT NIGHTS by the Antaeus Theatre Company
15 Critics reviews - 93% Sweet

FALSETTOS at the Ahmanson Theatre
15 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

A KID LIKE JAKE by the IAMA Theatre Company
15 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

LACKAWANNA BLUES at the Mark Taper Forum
15 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

HYPE MAN at The Fountain Theatre
15 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

SCRAPS at the Matrix Theatre
15 critics reviews - 87% Sweet

OTHELLO at A Noise Within
15 Critics reviews - 80% Sweet

PARADISE at the Matrix Theatre
15 Critics reviews - 77% Sweet

LINDA VISTA at the Mark Taper Forum
15 Critics reviews - 77% Sweet

AUGUST WILSON'S JITNEY at the Mark Taper Forum
14 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TO DAD WITH LOVE: A TRIBUTE TO BUDDY EBSEN at Theatre West
14 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum
14 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

DIANA OF DOBSON'S by the Antaeus Theatre Company
14 Critics reviews - 93% Sweet

MOBY DICK - REHEARSED at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum
14 Critics reviews - 89% Sweet

THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER by Deaf West Theatre
14 Critics reviews - 89% Sweet

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at the Pasadena Playhouse
14 Critics reviews - 75% Sweet

TWO TRAINS RUNNING AT MATRIX at the Matrix Theatre
13 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

IN CIRCLES at the Odyssey Theatre
13 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TWELFTH NIGHT at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
13 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

RAGTIME at the Chance Theater
13 Critics reviews - 96% Sweet

NEIL SIMON'S MUSICAL FOOLS by the Open Fist Theatre Company
13 Critics reviews - 92% Sweet

WITNESS UGANDA at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
13 Critics reviews - 92% Sweet

THE JOY WHEEL at the Ruskin Group Theatre
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

THE WOLVES by the Echo Theater Company
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

FAITH HEALER at the Odyssey Theatre
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

THE NICETIES at the Geffen Playhouse
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

ARGONAUTIKA at A Noise Within
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

THE PRODUCERS at the Celebration Theatre @ The Lex
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

FEFU AND HER FRIENDS at the Odyssey Theatre
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

LIGHTS OUT: NAT "KING" COLE at the Geffen Playhouse
13 Critics reviews - 85% Sweet

GRUMPY OLD MEN: THE MUSICAL at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
13 Critics reviews - 77% Sweet

HAPPY DAYS at the Mark Taper Forum
12 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

CANYON at theLos Angeles Theatre Center
12 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

THE VANDAL at the Chance Theater
12 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Ruskin Group Theatre
12 Critics reviews - 96% Sweet

NANCY F***ING REAGAN at the Secret Rose Theatre
12 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

AMERICA ADJACENT at theSkylight Theatre Company
12 Critics reviews - 83% Sweet

DEFENDERS at The Broadwater
12 Critics reviews - 79% Sweet

ANASTASIA at the Pantages Theatre
12 Critics reviews - 75% Sweet

JULIUS WEEZER at the El Portal Theatre
11 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

ANDY WARHOL’S TOMATO at the Pacific Resident Theatre
11 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

BURIED CHILD at A Noise Within
11 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
11 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

HERSHEY FELDER: A PARIS LOVE STORY at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
11 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

ANNA IN THE TROPICS by the Open Fist Theatre Company
11 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

THE GLASS MENAGERIE at A Noise Within
11 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

AT THE TABLE at The Road Theatre Company
11 Critics reviews - 91% Sweet

MISS LILLY GETS BONED at the Rogue Machine Theatre
11 Critics reviews - 91% Sweet

SISTERS IN LAW at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
11 Critics reviews - 91% Sweet

THE GREAT LEAP at the Pasadena Playhouse
11 Critics reviews - 91% Sweet

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at the Odyssey Theatre
11 Critics reviews - 86% Sweet

M. BUTTERFLY at the South Coast Repertory
11 Critics reviews - 77% Sweet

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER by The Group Rep/Lonny Chapman Theatre
10 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TREYA'S LAST DANCE at the Hudson Theatres
10 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

DAMES AT SEA by the Sierra Madre Playhouse
10 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

NEVER IS NOW at the Skylight Theatre Company
10 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

THE NEW ONE at the Ahmanson Theatre
10 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

FRIENDS WITH GUNS at The Road Theatre Company
10 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

ROALD DAHL'S MATILDA THE MUSICAL by 5 Star Theatricals
10 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

DISNEY'S FROZEN at the Pantages Theatre
10 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE by the 24th STreet Theatre
10 Critics reviews - 85% Sweet

SPECIAL at the Theatre of Note
10 Critics reviews - 85% Sweet

SWEENEY TODD - THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET at the South Coast Repertory
10 Critics reviews - 85% Sweet

FIFTEEN MEN IN A SMOKE-FILLED ROOM at Theatre 40
10 Critics reviews - 85% Sweet

LOOSE KNIT by The Group Rep/Lonny Chapman Theatre
10 Critics reviews - 80% Sweet


TICKETHOLDER AWARDS 2019 PART I

My 28th annual TicketHolder Awards are now posted on my TicketHoldersLA website in two parts. You can read it below and click here for photos.

Choosing my honorees this year is a real bitch. Almost as many tears shed as Carrie Ann Inaba eliminating a sports figure she finds hot. Yet there’s not much else good to write home about in 2019 besides theatre in El Lay. Between the mess we’re making of our planet and the eye-opening disintegration of everything I’ve championed and held dear all my life, thank Terpsichore it’s been a spectacular year for the creation of theatrical art to help ease the pain and frustration of living in our Trumpian nightmare. And even though I have a whole heap of productions to honor this year, with part of my time spent in New Orleans hosting an exhibit of my paintings and medical issues to tackle that seem to come with the territory at age 348, there were also a lot of noteworthy productions I sadly missed. In my world, it’s definitely been a year to praise some monumental directorial work and a plethora of spectacular ensemble casts; choosing winners in both categories has not been an easy task. And what do you think of the Geffen Playhouse? After too long a period of less-than exciting fare, the announcement in 2017 that Matt Shakman had been hired as the complex’s artistic director guaranteed a positive change and without a doubt, the turn around has been staggering. Two of the company’s casts are tied here for Best Ensemble, two of its masterful set designs are as well, and five of my top production choices for 2019 were presented at the Geffen, including my second, third, ninth, and tenth pick for Best Play and second choice of Best Revival. If I gave an annual award for Best Season, surely the Geffen Playhouse would win this year. As a matter of fact, maybe I should initiate such a thing. As a matter of fact, I think I will. 

THE 2019 TICKETHOLDER AWARD
FOR BEST SEASON

Geffen Playhouse; Matt Shakman, resident puppetmaster

BEST PRODUCTION OF 2019

Linda Vista, Center Theatre Group, Mark Taper Forum
The Thanksgiving Play, Geffen Playhouse
RUNNERS-UP: The Abuelas, Antaeus; Andy Warhol’s Tomato, Pacific Resident Theatre; Apple Season, Moving Arts; Dana H., CTG/Douglas; The End of Sex, Victory Theatre Center; For The Love Of (or the Roller Derby Play), Theatre of NOTE/CTG at the Douglas; 4.48 Psychosis, Son of Semele; Frankenstein, A Noise Within; Handjob, Echo Theatre Company; The Mountaintop, Garry Marshall Theatre; On Beckett, CTG/Douglas; The Play That Goes Wrong, CTG/, Ahmanson; Sisters in Law, Wallis Annenberg Center

BEST REVIVAL PRODUCTION

JitneyCenter Theatre Group, Mark Taper Forum 
FalsettosCenter Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre
RUNNERS-UP: The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Antaeus Theatre Company; Cats, Pantages; The Cripple of Inishmaan, Anteaus Theatre Company; Happy Days, CTG/Mark Taper Forum; Hello, Dolly!, Pantages; Jesus Christ Superstar, Pantages; Loot, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble; The Ruffian on the Stairs, Los Angeles LGBT Center; Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, Garry Marshall Theatre

BEST MUSICAL PRODUCTION

Indecent, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – November 4 - 10, 2019


Theatrical shows, Musicals, Staged Readings, Solo Shows, LGBTQ Theatre, and MORE, now registered on the Better Lemons calendar!

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


Saint Joan

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For The Loyal

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The Manor

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Seven

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Wild at Hart

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Niki Haris and Donna De Lory

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Santasia: A Holiday Comedy

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The Legend of Georgia McBride

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The World is My Home: The Life of Paul Robison

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Big Queer Convo: 50 Years of Queer Theatre

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A Night in _____ Shorts

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Hot Tragic Dead Thing

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Enerjoyce: Evolution of a Pisces Baby Boomer

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Hot off the Press: Staged Readings at the Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival

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Bunny the Elf LIVE!

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The Man Who Came to Dinner

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A Twisted Christmas Carol

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Little Black Dress: The Musical

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Growing Gills to Drown in the Desert

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JOAN OF ART: An Outdoor Concert, An Indoor Concert, A Musical Parody of a Hit TV Comedy and A Great Musical From Broadway

One thing that I love about the summer is an outdoor concert and this Saturday evening the always fabulous RICKIE LEE JONES will be performing live at Burton Chace Park, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. Tickets are free and the concert starts at 7:00pm and runs till 8:30.

Now in its 19th year, the Marina del Rey Summer Concerts present exciting symphonic and pop concerts. Enjoy a serene sunset by the water while listening to great music. Bring some food along in case you get the munches.

For a full list of their concerts go to EventBrite.com/o/marina-del-rey-summer-concerts-19961789196. No tickets are required for these concerts.

Now if you’d rather be indoors, then head on out to the Forum in Inglewood to either Friday or Saturday night to see ADAM LAMBERT with QUEEN. I’ve seen this concert and it is fantastic. Adam has the same charisma that Freddie Mercury had and the dude can sing.

The Forum is located at 3900 West Manchester Blvd, Inglewood CA To purchase tickets and for more information. go to MSG.com.

If you’d like theatre of a different kind then I’m happy to report that one of my favorite musicals has returned to Los Angeles. The powerful, beautifully written musical MISS SAIGON starting this Thursday, July 18th will be playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles.

MISS SAIGON is based on Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly and similarly tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. The setting of the plot is relocated to 1970’s Saigon during the Vietnam War and Madam Butterfly’s story of marriage between an American lieutenant and a geisha i replaced by a romance between a United States Marine and a 17 year old South Vietnamese bargirl.

The music is absolutely haunting.

For tickets and information go to HollywoodPantages.com

Finally for some lighter fare then i recommend you head over to the Kirk Douglas Theatre to see FRIENDS! THE MUSICAL PARODY. This is the comedic musical that lovingly pokes fun at TV’S Friends, celebrating the adventures of your favorite group of 20 something friends as they navigate the pitfalls of work, life and love in 1990’s Manhattan.

The show has gotten rave review from all over the country.

To purchase tickets and for more information go to CenterTheatreGroup.org The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located in Culver City at 9820 Washington Blvd. This 317 Theatre is absolutely beautiful and a great place to experience theatre.

Whatever you choose to do this summer weekend, make it a great one.


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.


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.