LOVE, ART, THOUGHT - Searching for the Magic Connection in the Sacred Space

HIPSTER TIPS

MASTERCLASS by Terrence McNally, directed by Dimitri Toscas

Carolyn Hennesy and Roy Abramsohn in "Masterclass"

This is the first production of the Garry Marshall Theatre (formerly the Falcon), but I have to admit that I didn't have high expectations.  The play Masterclass was first produced in 1995 - right here at the Ahmanson,  then on Broadway - with Patti Lupone as the aging Maria Callas and the young Audra McDonald as one of her students; and it's been revived several times since.  Was this really how you want to kick off a new theatre?  Well, it turns out that the answer is Yes.  This is a stellar revival.  In fact, it's so alive, so strong moment-to-moment, that it doesn't feel like a revival, it feels like an Event.  This is largely thanks to Carolyn Hennessy, who is wonderful and simply seems to BE Maria Callas.  She inhabits the play, she comes to life as a creature of the stage, full of joy, sorrow and many contradictions.  But everything is excellent in this production, from Callas's students (I was especially taken with Landon Shaw II as a tenor who is especially taken with himself) to Manny the accompanist (Roy Abramsohn) to Francois-Pierre Couture's heartbreakingly beautiful stage design of the naked stage.  Credit must go to director Dimitri Toscas, who is also co-director of the Garry Marshall Theatre (GMT).  He clearly has a passionate connection to this play and to the character of Callas.  He deeply feels her pain - the pain of dislocation and loneliness.  "You know the only place where Callas truly fit in? On stage. In the opera house," Toscas writes in the program notes and wonderfully dramatizes on the GMT's stage.

 

INCOGNITO by Nick Payne, directed by Katharine Farmer

Claire Adams and Henry Jacobson in "Incognito"

I was fortunate enough to catch the West Coast premiere of British playwright Nick Payne's new play Incognito at the Rubicon in Ventura, and to my mind it confirms that he may well be the second coming of Thom Stoppard.  The play scrambles together three different story-threads having to do with the act of cognition and the very real possibility that our sense of self may be the biggest delusion of all.  It is not a perfect play by any means - as Philip Brandes in the LA Times pointed out, it may add on one subplot too many, which invite a confusion that threatens to obscure how brilliantly it explores the intersecting byways of consciousness, identity and memory.  It's simply the most exciting and challenging play I've seen this year.  Under the guidance of Katharine Farmer, the cast of four actors - Claire Adams, Joseph Fuqua, Henry Jacobson and Betsy Zajko - is excellent, making hairpin emotional turns and seamless character transitions.  Here's hoping that CTG or the Geffen or Roguemachine or some other adventurous purveyor of new plays brings this production to Los Angeles, where it deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.

Paige Lindsey White and Daisuke Tsuji in "With Love and a Major Organ" at Boston Court. Photo: Jenny Graham.

PREVIEW of a New Play at the Boston Court:

WITH LOVE AND A MAJOR ORGAN by Julia Lederer, directed by Jessica Kubzansky

Speaking of "adventurous" - a word that is in the mission statement of the Boston Court Theatre - I attended a preview last weekend of their new production, With Love and a Major Organ by Canadian playwright Julia Lederer, directed by co-artistic director Jessica Kubzansky.  The play depicts what director Kubzansky described as "three screamingly lonely people" searching for love in a hostile technological landscape: a 20-something man, his mother, and a 20-something woman.  The young woman and man meet on the subway every morning on the way to work at some anonymous office job, and the woman feels a pheromone-fueled attraction to the man.  The man doesn't sense this at all and feels embarrassed by intimacy.  His mother, meanwhile, is on the internet searching for a soulmate - or if not that, then simply someone she can talk with.  The play contains another of Boston Court's extraordinary sets, something they have become justly famous for.  In this case it's a dingy subway train, complete with the illusion of movement.  There is a mythic sense to the characters, who are not so much realistic individuals as figures of yearning, desperate for that magical sense of connection in a world of disconnect, where the wish for intimacy is dangerous and actively suppressed.

"There are three qualities we look for in a Boston Court play," Kubzansky told me in the theater lobby after the preview.  "The play must be inherently theatrical, visually arresting and textually rich.  Julia's play is poetry for the theater - another quality necessary for a Boston Court play.  We are constantly on the lookout for plays that find new and original ways to convey poetic essences in a theatrical style."

Kubzansky added that Boston Court has been adapting to the conditions of the new Equity contract, which have definitely increased the challenge of living up to their mission.  "Last season we used half as many actors as we had the previous year, but it cost us $112,000 more.  This is has made it impossible for us to do some plays we love, but which require a cast size we can no longer afford.  Still, our subscribers expect a certain kind of theatrical experience from us - something they can't find anywhere else - and we are determined to keep providing that."

At its core, With Love and a Major Organ is a deeply romantic play which should appeal to theatergoers looking to feed the heart without ignoring the mind.  Paige Lindsey White, Daisuke Tsuji and Bonita Friedericy breathe life into Ms. Lederer's words, and you have until November 5th to catch Boston Court's latest theatrical train ride.  Click here to hop aboard!


CAN'T STOP THE BEAT, CAN'T STOP THE BEAT

It's happening, folks.  Whether you want it to or not - and why wouldn't you want it to? - SPRING is exploding all over Los Angeles, and not just any spring either.  The snowy plovers are back in LA (at Dockweiler Beach) for the first time in 70 years, the brodiaea filofilia is
blooming out in the desert for the first time in many years, and new plays are springing up everywhere.  Seriously, the Twisted Hipster has been haunting the aisles for longer than he cares to admit, but even he can't remember so many new theatrical voices of all sorts crying out to be heard.  Now if only the audiences out there would adjust their inner radio dials and get on that more dramatic frequency, then you would see a true celebration of the remarkable talent that this city of dreams has to offer. What follows are Hipster Tips for two shows that are in their final week and another that has a few weeks to go.

And folks - THE FRINGE IS COMING, so get ready to tighten your seat belts.  (And only a few more days to catch this lovely blue flower before it's gone, and who knows when we can see it again?)

Armond Edward Dorsey, William Salyers and Eamon Hunt

PURE CONFIDENCE at Sacred Fools

There's a sly game being played by the Lower Depth Ensemble in this deceptively nimble play by Carlyle Brown. And I'm not talking about the con game being perpetrated by Colonel Wiley Johnson and the slave Simon Cato on the greedy and proudly racist George Dewitt. What seems like a clever costume drama about racetrack shenanigans in Kentucky (where else?) in the mid-1800s reveals itself in the Second Act as a deeply subversive work about the ways in which Americans seem to learn nothing from history - instead celebrating our ignorance while trying to convince ourselves that we've made loads of progress. What a resonant message for our times, as the stupidest president in our stupidity-riddled history celebrates his ignorance in such predictably stupid ways.  And the excellent cast includes Deborah Puette! A good rule of thumb for Los Angeles theater is to go see any play that has Deborah Puette in it, as she is always so good.  Only one weekend, three performances to go! Click here for tickets.

PUNK ROCK at the Odyssey Theatre

Written three years before his celebrated adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Simon Stephens's Punk Rock is NOT about a punk rock band, is NOT about the punk rock movement in London or Liverpool or anywhere else, and is NOT even about fans of punk rock. Instead it introduces us to six fairly average-seeming teenage students at "a fee-paying school in Stockport, England." Why then is the play titled Punk Rock? According to Simon Stephens, "I only ever called my Punk Rock because Tom Stoppard called his worst-ever play Rock 'n Roll and in so doing denigrated the art form I love more than any other." But Stephens does explore the kind of destructive and rage-filled compulsions that lie at the heart of punk rock music, as when one young male asks another here: "Don't you ever feel like just destroying things?"And the other young man answers, "Oh yeah, all the time!" The cast under Lisa James's direction all bring these students to life in a way that brings to mind The Breakfast Club on the one hand and Lord of the Flies on the other. And no, try as you might, you won't be ready when the punk rock song finally comes. Also in its last weekend, last three shows.  Wow, this man can write. Click for tickets here.

Corryn Cummins and Amy Harmon            Photo Credit: Ed Krieger

LORD OF THE UNDERWORLD'S HOME FOR UNWED MOTHER at the Skylight

Playwright Louisa Hill tries very daringly - and to a great degree, very successfully - to create a realistic mother-daughter play that also has the feel of a fable, a Grimm's fairy tale for our fractured times. Act I takes us back to the '60s - not the hip, drug-fueled '60s, but the dark ages before Roe v. Wade and the women's movement, when a young Catholic girl who got knocked up had to trust in the Church to have her best interests at heart (which it didn't), and when nice white people couldn't withstand the public shame of a teen pregnancy. In Act II we see the result of all this shame and the unwise faith in institutions: a daughter whose heart has been broken so many times and whose trust has been betrayed so often that she is unable to love, unwilling to hope - until finally, gradually, she finds her way back to her mother. While not a perfect play by any means, it is given a nearly flawless production under the supervision of director Tony Abatemarco, and you have 3 weekends left to catch it, so hurry! Click for tickets here.