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.


Novel Entertainments - Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nike Doukas Accenting Her Way From The Cockney Streets To The Royal Court

Actress Nike Doukas will be doing double duty in Pasadena Playhouse's latest production of KING CHARLES III, previewing on November 8, 2017. Besides taking on the character of ‘Ghost,' Nike's accent coaching expertise will be utilized to achieve maximum British effect of the various British characters. Nike was most gracious to take the time to answer my accented inquiries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Nike!

I have seen you credited as both a 'dialect coach' and an 'accent coach.' Could you explain the differences, if any, between the two terms 'dialect' and 'accent'?

I so appreciate your question about the difference between a dialect coach and an accent coach! Linguists make a very sharp distinction between the two: A dialect is defined by vocabulary that people use depending on where they come from, for example, in Boston (where I grew up), people say "wicked" to mean "very" (among other things). But the classic "Park the car in Harvard Yard" is an accent, the same vocabulary is used, but pronounced differently. I deal only with pronunciation, and therefore, am an accent coach. For some reason, theater people tend to call what I do a dialect coach, I'm not sure why, but I'm always trying to correct the error.  

If I wanted to sound like a Cockney villager, would I come to you with the request to coach me in a Cockney accent? Or in a Cockney dialect?

Come to me for coaching on your Cockney accent - although Cockneys also have a very extensive dialect, which I can research for you, if you want extra help on that. Then I will be your dialect coach.

Any accent you would name as your specialty?

My specialty is British accents, particularly RP, or Received Pronunciation, which is also known as the Queen's English, and is that very refined sound you hear from the Royals and upper crust. I also specialize in Cockney and Estuary, which is the ever more popular accent, sort of mid-way between RP and Cockney.

In KING CHARLES III, what various accents will we be hearing? Upper-class British? Lower or middle-class British?

We will be using all three in KING CHARLES III. I have also coached about twenty other accents for plays and TV. Boston is one of my favorites, for obvious reasons.

How do you feel about productions that do not incorporate the appropriate accents of the show's characters?

I feel very strongly about accents in plays. There are certain plays I can't imagine without an accent, and KING CHARLES III is one of them. As an actor and as a theatre-goer; for me, the accent informs and enriches the play. The sounds people make reflect their emotional, physical selves, the way people make a sounds, informs how they express their point of view. This is not only in terms of the way the sounds are formed in the mouth, but the musicality of the speech, which varies so much from region to region. Think about the way Jimmy Carter's accent compared to Hilary Clinton's accent, compared to LBJ's accent, compared to our current president's accent informs their speech and personality. When directors try to neutralize accents, or lose them altogether, it makes me feel they don't really understand the world of the play. I sometimes think they think it's too hard for the actors and will distance them from their roles. And it is hard work, and can feel distancing. In KING CHARLES III, we are working for a much more expressive musicality, that is very alien to our American ears. Americans tend to make emphasis with volume, not pitch. The Brits are much more versatile with the vocal tools they have; they use volume, pace and most especially pitch, and it makes them much more expressive communicators. It's why they are so pleasant to listen to! So as Americans in the cast, we have to embrace those changes and make them feel like ourselves, and that takes work. But that's what actors do! We love taking on different physicalities, different ways of dressing, different ways of thinking. So for a director to say that's just "too hard," I say, "It's our job." And for the director who says, "It will alienate the audience. I want this to feel universal." I say, "There is no such thing as a universal accent. Everyone has one. And when audiences recognize themselves, it isn't because of the accent., It's because of the shared humanity. The fun and the lesson is recognizing yourself in someone who seems quite different. Fortunately, our director Michael Michetti, feels the accents in this play are of the utmost importance. He and I talk a lot about the story we are telling with the way the actors are sounding. He's very sensitive to the nuances of sound, and I love that.

Would you consider yourself an actress who loves to teach and coach? Or a teacher/coach who loves to act?

I am something of a typical L.A. actor (and American actor) who does as much acting as possible, and supplements my income with outside work. In my case, I'm an accent coach. I teach accents in class, and I am an acting teacher and coach. I also started directing a few years back, and in fact, will be directing Harold Pinter's THE HOTHOUSE at Antaeus as soon as KING CHARLES closes. I adore teaching and directing and accent coaching, but I think of myself primarily as an actor. Being an actor informs everything I do as a teacher, coach and director. Specifically as an accent coach, I know how delicate the process of developing a role is, and how alienating it can be to add an accent to the mix. I like to think I am able to help the actors use the accent to get closer to their characters. I often give notes in terms of acting choices. That's really fun for me. I try to be sensitive as to when an actor can hear a note about accents and when they need to focus on other things.

You're multi-tasking in KING CHARLES III, first in the role of Ghost and also as the show's accent coach. Do your two positions overlap? Or do you keep them separate?

In KING CHARLES III, I rarely give notes when I'm acting. Aside from the fact that I don't want the actors to think I'm listening for their accent when I'm acting with them, I don't want to be listening for their accent when I'm acting with them! So I spend most of my off-stage time taking notes. This wonderful, warm and talented cast has been absolutely receptive and welcoming of the notes. They make it easy for me.

You were chosen as one of the ten to participate in the Lunt Fontanne Fellowship Program in 2011 led by Olympia Dukakis as your Master Teacher. What was the process in getting to be chosen?

I was a 2011 member of the Lunt Fontanne Fellowship. Each year, the Fellowship selects ten American regional theatre actors to go to the Lunt Fontanne estate in Wisconsin, and study for ten days at their beautifully-kept home in the country. I was nominated by South Coast Repertory Theatre, a theatre where I have worked a lot over the years. It was an absolute honor to be nominated by my friends at SCR, and accepted into the program. Each year they have a different "mentor" leading the group of ten actors, and my year, it was Olympia Dukakis.

What gems of wisdom did Ms. Dukakis share with you?

She is a fiery, passionate, and hugely talented actress. We spent ten days with her thinking about and working on Chekhov plays. She had much to share with us, including her incredible knowledge on the period Chekhov was writing in. She also has a specific way of rehearsing. It was challenging and rewarding to experiment with her way of looking at rehearsal. It was especially rewarding to be among old and new friends in this group, and share war stories, complaints and to appreciate each other's work. It's very rare that actors get these kind of working retreats, and are treated so lovingly and lavishly. It made us feel very special, and I recommend it to any actor who's lucky enough to be asked to be included.

Thank you again, Nike! I look forward to hearing all your wonderful work in CHARLES.

Thank you, Gil, for your interest in me and in KING CHARLES III.

For ticket availability and show schedule through December 3, 2017, log onto www.pasadenaplayhouse.org


Audio Interview: Judith Scott - of the feature film GUESS WHO - stars in “Mrs Warren's Profession” at A Noise Within

Enjoy this interview about “Mrs Warren's Profession” By George Bernard Shaw staring Judith Scott (of the feature film GUESS WHO where she played alongside Bernie Mac, Ashton Kutcher & Zoe Saldana) at A Noise Within, running until Nov 18th. You can listen to this YouTube interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage.  For tickets and more info Click here.


Urgent call to action: Robert Schenkkan's ‘Building the Wall' will premiere at Fountain Theatre, roll across U.S.

LOS ANGELES (Feb. 17, 2017) — A new play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle, All the Way, Hacksaw Ridge), written in direct response to the immigration policies of the Trump administration, reveals how those policies might lead to a terrifying, seemingly inconceivable, yet inevitable conclusion. Building the Wall opens at the Fountain Theatre on March 18, the first in a series of productions set to take place at theaters across the U.S. as part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere.

In the very near future, the Trump administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. As a writer interviews the former supervisor of a private prison, it becomes clear how federal policy has escalated into something previously unimaginable.

Multiple-award winner Michael Michetti directs James Macdonald (Mutual Philanthropy at Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA) and Judith Moreland (Ovation Award for the Fountain's Miss Julie: Freedom Summer) in Schenkkan's riveting, harrowing and illuminating cautionary tale.

“This is an urgent cry of warning from a leading voice in the American theater,” says Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “It's an opportunity for the Fountain to make its voice heard through our art. This project is more than a play. It's already ignited a national firestorm with theaters across the country signing up to produce it.”

In an interview with BBC Newshour, Schenkkan noted that “Donald Trump is not unusual or extraordinary… this is the playbook of authoritarianism. The question, of course, is not what Donald Trump will do. It's what we, as citizens, will do to respond.”

“Audiences can expect to be very rattled by this play,” notes Michetti. “Robert lays out a clear path of where we could all too easily end up if we don't change course. But the idea is not for people to go home depressed. It's a call to action. We've got to stop this from happening. We need to step up and exercise our rights as citizens to create positive change.”

To that end, the Fountain will host post-performance discussions throughout the run, and additional ancillary events are currently in the planning stages.

Other productions of Building the Wall are set to take place at the Curious Theater in Denver, Forum Theater in Silver Spring, Md., Borderlands Theater in Tucson and City Theatre in Miami.

Building the Wall runs March 18 through May 21, with performances on Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; and Mondays at 8 p.m. (dark Monday, March 20). Three preview performances take place on Wednesday, March 15;Thursday, March 16; and Friday, March 17, all at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $15$35; every Monday is Pay-What-You-Can. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com. Like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheFountainTheatre. Follow us on Twitter: @fountaintheatre.