EVENTS OPENING THIS WEEK

IRISH FILM FESTIVAL @ A Noise Within

October 25, 2018 7:00 pm

Irish Screen America showcases contemporary media makers and their work in the US though screening, panels and receptions in New York and Los Angeles. ...read more


DESERT RATS @ Los Angeles Theatre Center

October 25, 2018 8:00 pm

A dark comedy about life and crime in America's contemporary West. In a squalid motel room on a hellish day in Barstow, brothers Frank and Jesse plan a kidnapping. When day turns into night ...read more


MEMBERS ONLY @ Los Angeles Theatre Center

October 25, 2018 8:00 pm

A roller-coaster ride to redemption. The year is 1982: the golden age of boxing, the dying gasp of disco, the flowering of identity politics — a time before AIDS had a name. Two decades ...read more


THE SHOOTER'S BIBLE @ Los Angeles City College

October 25, 2018 8:00 pm

Vietnam, March 14, 1970. For Lt. Jockey John and his men, tonight their war and their world comes down to this one room on this one last night. ...read more


THE CONSTITUTION@ MiMoDa Studio

October 26, 2018 8:00 pm

The Constitution by Mickaël de Oliveira tells the story of four actors, who are invited by the government to write a new Constitution during troublesome political times. They are sequestered from society and given ...read more


PL.A.Y NOIR 2018 @ Actors Workout Studio

October 26, 2018 8:00 pm

Punk Monkey Productions returns with their homage to the beloved film genre with five new Noir-acts for the stage. The seventh season of PL.A.Y Noir presents an even keel of comedy and drama in ...read more


DOCTOR ZOMBA'S GHOST SHOW OF TERROR @ The Complex

October 26, 2018 11:45 pm

Critics Lemonade: 100%

Audience Lemonade: 86%

The award winning campy horror comedy returns to Hollywood this Halloween! "This Halloween treat will satisfy your horror craving and tickle your funny bone."-Hollywood Gothique Doctor Zomba revives the “Ghost Show” popular in the 1950's featuring ...read more


MEET THE CRITICS II @ Theatre West

October 27, 2018 10:00 am

On Saturday, October 27, from 10 am to 12 noon, Better Lemons and Theatre West will be hosting “Meet the Critics!” part 2, featuring several of LA's premier critics for a panel discussion of ...read more


THE WOMAN WHO WENT TO SPACE AS A MAN @ Son of Semele

October 27, 2018 8:00 pm

The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man – Part fact, part fever dream, and part musical, this captivating new work opens with Alice B. Sheldon – better known to sci-fi aficionados as ...read more


CRISTINA MONTES MATEO, HARP, AND SUSAN GREENBERG, FLUTE @ Raitt Recital Hall at Pepperdine University

October 28, 2018 2:00 pm

As the 1st Prize winner in the XII Edition of the Torneo Internazionale di Musica (Rome, 2006), and the 1st Prize winner in the International Harp Competition V. Bucchi (2009), Cristina Montes Mateo is ...read more


MACBETH, AN ALL-FEMALE CAST PRESENTED BY SHAKESPEARE ON THE DECK @ The Kimpton Everly Hotel, on the deck

October 28, 2018 8:00 pm

"Fair is Foul, and Foul is Fair" Nothing is what it seems. When three witches tell Macbeth that he is destined to occupy the throne of Scotland, he and his wife choose to become ...read more


VALLEY OF THE HEART @ Mark Taper Forum

October 30, 2018 8:00 pm

Luis Valdez, the legendary creator of Zoot Suit and hero of the Latino theatre (The New York Times), returns to the Taper with a sweeping new epic examining the difficult divide between America's ideals and its actions in ...read more


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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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.
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Visit our Wakelet for more stories.


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.

 


Theatre Lemonade of 2016

Although I've only been the Editor in Chief of the new and improved Better Lemons since November, I've been actively seeing (and making) theatre this year. Here are some of my favourites.
1984 by Headlong Theatre at the Broad Stage. I had just moved back to LA from London when this show opened in London and made my husband go see it on my behalf. Needless to say I was delighted when Headlong brought their adaptation of George Orwell's novel to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. This brilliantly crafted production highlights the paranoia of what we think we know.
Tempest Redux adapted and directed by John Farmanesh-Bocca at the Odyssey Theatre. Not only does Farmanesh-Bocca highlight the absurd comedy in this piece, he also brings out a deeply human and heart-breaking story of a father's love for his daughter and what one will do to protect that love. I had the pleasure of interviewing Farmanesh-Bocca where we discussed refining Shakespeare's language and incorporating heightened physicality.
Ameryka by Nancy Keystone and Critical Mass Performance Group at Shakespeare LA. This 3 hour saga of Polish-American relations since the Revolutionary War is a gargantuan undertaking highlighting the company's impeccable ensemble work. Although the overall production is flawed, its ambition is strikingly beautiful. I'll never forget the scene where Gene drags a suitcase full of bricks, unloading each brick as an emblem of deep racial prejudice and hatred that has weighed him down as a black man in America.
Endgame by Samuel Beckett at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Starring Beckett veterans Barry McGovern and Alan Mandell (who also directed), this production perfectly captures the absurdity of the human need to fill the void. It's dark and bleak, and, to quote Nell, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.”
My Mañana Comes by Elizabeth Irwin at the Fountain Theatre. This fast-paced drama about a group of men working as busboys in a busy restaurant encapsulates the pressures of working in the service industry, especially when their management starts to cut their pay.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom by August Wilson at the Mark Taper Forum. Phylicia Rashad superbly directs this production whose ensemble never lets the pace and poetry drop. With equal parts humor and pathos, this show, although written in 1984 and about the 1920s, still resonates today.
Among Us by Marike Splint as part of the LAX Festival. This site specific piece takes us into Union Station in the morning where we listen on headsets about the nature of people, community, and transience. Then in the afternoon, we gather again in a local park where the same calm voice on the headset guides us through a series of questions.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh at the Mark Taper Forum. After directing the dark comedy 20 years ago (and winning a Tony Award) Irish director Garry Hynes revisits the dark relationship between a 40-year-old woman and her ailing and manipulative mother.
I'm looking forward to seeing what shows will happen 2017 - especially in how 99 seat community will move forward with the new plans implemented by AEA.
What have you seen this year that you absolutely loved?