Novel Entertainments – Part 2

This is a three part series.

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

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


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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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


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.


EVENTS OPENING THIS WEEK

EMMA @ Chance Theater @ Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center

November 23, 2018 3:00 pm

Jane Austen's enduring love story is brought to life as a romantic-comedy musical. The story revolves around Emma, a well-meaning, but disaster-prone matchmaker, who ignores her own romantic feelings while setting out to find ...read more


VENDETTA CHROME @ The Lex

November 23, 2018 8:00 pm

Vendetta, a late bloomer at a Victorian girls' school, must save her friends and family from a legacy of trouble — and it's all in the dance moves. Oswald's melodrama–farce takes a female and ...read more


A CHRISTMAS STORY @ Sierra Madre Playhouse

November 23, 2018 8:00 pm

Back in the 1960s, humorist, writer, raconteur and TV and radio personality Jean Shepherd (1921-1999) was the undisputed king of late night radio on the East Coast. His live broadcasts from the Limelight Café ...read more


BOB BAKER'S NUTCRACKER @ Pasadena Playhouse

November 24, 2018 2:30 pm

Bob Baker's adaptation of the ballet classic and one of Bob Baker Marionette Theater 's most beloved shows since it's opening in 1969! For the first time outside of its original location, the imagination ...read more


THE WORLD IS MY HOME: THE LIFE OF PAUL ROBESON @ Santa Monica Playhouse The Main Stage

November 24, 2018 8:00 pm

Actor/Playwright Stogie Kenyatta returns to Santa Monica Playhouse for Black History Month with his acclaimed one-man show about the life of Actor/Activist Paul Robeson. For the past 15 years - from its first performance at ...read more


THE HOLIDAY [email protected] The Gem Theatre

November 24, 2018 8:00 pm

Ring in the holidays at The GEM Theatre with a 'fun for the whole family' holiday review! Backed by live musicians, stunning costumes and a whimsical set; Santa Claus, his tap dancing elves and ...read more


A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS @ Camino Real Playhouse

November 24, 2018 8:00 pm

Originally broadcast in 1947 as part of the Archie Andrews radio show. We invite you now to join Archie and his pals Jughead, Veronica and Betty in another comic adventure from Riverdale. Performed as ...read more


KING LEAR @ Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre

November 25, 2018 7:00 pm

Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group is proud to present KING LEAR, Shakespeare's dark and insightful tragedy about a great King's agonizing descent into madness after making an arrogant and prideful error in judgment concerning ...read more


Now Registered This Week on the Better Lemons Calendar - October 29, 2018 through November 4

NEW! Theatrical shows, Musical Concerts, and Film Festivals 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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Audio Interview: The cast of “American Hero” at The Pasadena Playhouse

A darkly comic celebration of the power of teamwork and unity to overcome adversity. At a toasted subs franchise in the local mall, three up-and-coming “sandwich artists” — a young woman, a single mom and a downsized refugee from corporate banking — are perfecting the mustard-to-cheese ratio according to the company manual. But when their shot at the American dream is interrupted by a series of strange events, they must become unlikely allies in a post-recession world.*
Enjoy this interview with the cast of “American Hero” at The Pasadena Playhouse, running until Oct 21st. You can listen to this 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.

*taken from the website


Friday Features – Sweet Shows This Coming Week

Better Lemons has lots of registered shows and events and lot of them have Critics and Audience reviews posted. Here you can see their favorites and when you click on a title, you will see all the critics' and audience reviews and ratings. From there you can choose what your adventures this weekend will be. We wish you a fantastic weekend!

The Gin Game

A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN

SWEAT

SWANSONG

Resa Fantastiskt Mystisk

Martians – An Evening With Ray Bradbury

“BLACK!”

A View From The Bridge

The Rescued

Fallen Saints: Dark

Gloria

ROMEO AND JULIET

BREADCRUMBS

FIRE IN A DARK HOUSE

UK Underdog

Brimstone

26 PEBBLES

Showpony

A PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY

PARADISE – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy

Aleichem Sholom! The wit and wisdom of Sholom Aleichem

The Marriage Zone

What Happened When

Old Clown Wanted

ROPE

All Night Long

THE CAKE

I AM CHARLIE

American Hero


PODCAST: An Interview with Mary Bridget Davies of 'A Night with Janis Joplin'

In this podcast, Tony-nominated Mary Bridget Davies of the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts & McCoy Rigby Entertainment Production's A Night with Janis Joplin talks on becoming a mother, performing from an early age, her work with Playwright and Director Randy Johnson, the evolution of the show from its roots to its Broadway stint, playing with Robby Krieger from The Doors, working on a new album with her band, bringing enigmatic and iconic Janis Joplin back to life once again at the La Mirada Theatre, and "singin' the blues."

Photo by Jason Niedle
Mary Bridget Davies stars in her Tony-nominated performance as Janis Joplin in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts & McCoy Rigby Entertainment Production's A Night with Janis Joplin.

A Night with Janis Joplin features a healthy selection of Joplin hits—especially those with Big Brother and the Holding Company - as well as songs by such irreplaceable artists as Bessie Smith, Odetta, The Chantels, Nina Simone, and the late Aretha Franklin - the latter icons all interpreted by four additional vocalists in the show, along with a live band and horn section to help recreate a repertoire of blues gems.

Although she enjoys singing fan favorites like “Piece of My Heart” or “Cry Baby,” Davies said in the interview that she finds her best challenge with Joplin's version of “Maybe,” which she sings in the second act, and with “Ball and Chain.”

Born eight years after Joplin died of a heroin overdose in Los Angeles, Davies has been interpreting Joplin since she was in her teens. Like Joplin, whose Port Arthur, Texas vernacular Davies has mastered - she studied hours of archival footage of Joplin's interviews - she began with listening to and singing Joplin's songs and vocal stylings with her mother in her native Cleveland Ohio. Later, she would do more research and read the collection of Janis Joplin's letters and other correspondence that say so much more about Janis Joplin than any journalist ever has. (Did you know she was a painter?)

The award-winning actress has studied improv at The Second City (in Cleveland at the time) and is a member of the Something Dada Improv Group in Cleveland as well. In 2005, she toured with the production of Love, Janis, and has toured in Europe with Janis Joplin's original band, “Big Brother and the Holding Company.”

Davies has since received a Tony Award nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Musical for her performance as Joplin in A Night with Janis Joplin at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway in 2014, as well as winning the Theater World Awards and Theater World Awards for that year. Davis' band, The Mary Bridget Davies Group, released their album “Wanna Feel Somethin” in 2012, where she is currently working on writing songs for their next album.

A Night with Janis Joplin opens Friday, September 21, 2018, and runs through October 7, 2018, at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.  Visit their website for showtimes and tickets.

For more podcasts like these visit Better Lemons on Soundcloud.


Now Registered This Week on the Better Lemons Calendar - September 10 through September 16, 2018

NEW! Theatrical shows, Musical Concerts, and Film Festivals 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 our Wakelet for more shareable stories on registered shows and festivals!


Events Opening This Week

GLORIA @ Atwater Village Theatre

September 12, 2018 8:00 pm

A razor-sharp, darkly comic drama about ambition, office warfare and pecking orders by MacArthur “genius” grant recipient Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. For the 20-somethings working at a chic, unnamed New York magazine, the only thing that ...read more


BEAUTIFUL THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL @ Pantages Theatre

September 13, 2018 2:00 pm

BEAUTIFUL – The Carole King Musical tells the inspiring true story of King's remarkable rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow ...read more


SHORT+SWEET HOLLYWOOD @ Marilyn Monroe Theatre

September 13, 2018 7:00 pm

Festival of short plays. Week One (Sept. 13- Sept. 16): PROGRAM A (Thurs&Friday&Sat 7pm, Sunday 6pm) Slow Dating. Written by Adam Szudrich. Directed by Katie Burson. Cast. Julie Collis When an elderly lady tries ...read more


FIRE IN A DARK HOUSE @ Whitefire Theatre

September 13, 2018 8:00 pm

The Whitefire Theatre and Slowly I Turned Productions present a world premiere drama FIRE IN A DARK HOUSE, about two star-crossed young lovers, their families and community, all thrown into turmoil as anti-immigrant fervor ...read more


BROADWAY [email protected] Miles Memorial Playhouse

September 13, 2018 8:00 pm

It's 1949, the war is over, and America is beginning a new chapter. Eugene Jerome and his brother Stan are being given a chance to audition as comedy writers for CBS in the emerging ...read more


WE ARE TRAFFIC - A SOLO RIDESHARE ADVENTURE @ Stephanie Feury Theater

September 13, 2018 9:45 pm

Audience Lemonade: 100%

SPECIAL ENCORE PERFORMANCE! COMBINED ARTFORM PRESENTS: "ONE LAST CHANCE" Shows from the 2018 Fringe "We Are Traffic: A Rideshare Adventure" "In 2014 Jonathan lost his faith, so he got in his car...and drove. 'We Are Traffic' is ...read more


MOVING PARTS FILM FESTIVAL @ The Complex

September 14, 2018 12:00 pm

2 Days of International Independent Feature Films, Short Films, Documentaries, Live Staged Readings & Web Series The Moving Parts Film Festival is Hollywood's International Web Series and Film Festival. In response to the 2016 election, ...read more


THE MARRIAGE ZONE @ Santa Monica Playhouse The Main Stage

September 14, 2018 8:00 pm

Critics Lemonade: 90%

Cal and Beth are selling their home. They're visited by Skip and Ellie, an engaged couple, very much in love who are eager to buy their first home. They're joined by Mike and Liz, ...read more


MARTIANS - AN EVENING WITH RAY BRADBURY @ Whitefire Theatre

September 14, 2018 8:00 pm

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING “...the warmth and good humor of Ray Bradbury is wonderfully embodied in the performance of Mr. Mount... His performance is a TOUR-DE_FORCE! The ensemble invests their characters with passion and ...read more


DON'T YOU EVER CALL ME ANYTHING BUT MOTHER @ Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre

September 14, 2018 8:30 pm

Don't You Ever Call Me Anything But MOTHER with Tina Preston by John O'Keefe Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group proudly presents the amazing Tina Preston in John O'Keefe's solo-sonata centering around a crazy old ...read more


CAMBODIA TOWN FILM FESTIVAL @ Art Theatre

September 15, 2018 11:00 am

One of the key purposes of Cambodian Town Film Festival (CTTF) is to highlight the diversity of the Cambodian experience through the art of filmmaking. By specifically featuring films that deal with Cambodian social ...read more


AMERICAN [email protected] Carrie Hamilton Theatre at Pasadena Playhouse

September 15, 2018 8:00 pm

IAMA Theatre Company opens its 2018-19 season with the L.A. premiere of Bess Wohl's darkly comic celebration of the power of teamwork and unity to overcome adversity. At a toasted subs franchise in the ...read more


THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE @ studio/stage

September 15, 2018 8:00 pm

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE  September 14 – October 21   studio/stage (Los Angeles) Production developed at the Actors Studio West, Martin McDonagh's award-winning black comedy THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, directed by Mark Kemble (Film: co-writer/director “Bad Hurt”; writer/director award-winning ...read more


GIVE ME THE [email protected] Lounge Theatre

September 15, 2018 8:00 pm

With modern audiences in mind, renowned theatre artist Tony Tanner has created this adaptation of the classic play "Ghosts" by the immortal Henrik Ibsen. Reimagined in a taut, lean, focused framework, "Give Me the ...read more


HOT OFF THE PRESS @ Whitefire Theatre

September 16, 2018 7:00 pm

Hot Off the Press is a program of new writing by talented women playwrights as excerpts of their newest works are performed. The program includes: Fertile: An Exploration of the Expectations of Procreation. Written ...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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PIRATE King Shawn Pfautsch On Making It His Duty to Crack You Up

A most imaginative, re-imagined take of Gilbert and Sullivan's classic PIRATES OF PENZANCE will begin January 23, 2018 at the Pasadena Playhouse. We had the chance to chat with Shawn Pfautsch, one of the members of the Chicago theatre ensemble The Hypocrites, who will be performing in the role of Pirate King, in The Hypocrites' wacky beach party version of the Major General and his zany crew's exploits.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Shawn.

How's rehearsals going for the Pasadena Playhouse production?

Rehearsals are going great - six hours a day of making a fun play with friends, old and new. We've put our PIRATES OF PENZANCE up almost a dozen times and those of us who have been with it all these years still have fun playing this music and cracking each other up. 

Is this your first time working/attending the Pasadena Playhouse?

This is my first time at the Pasadena Playhouse. Not only are we excited to visit a new theatre and a new audience, but it's currently 24 degrees and snowing here in Chicago, so we'll be extra happy to see you all.

How would you describe The Hypocrites' version of PIRATES OF PENZANCE (vs. the original Gilbert & Sullivan edition)?

It's really hard to describe in words! When I try to explain the show to friends who still haven't seen it, I mention that it's promenade style (you can/should share the stage with us), that we re-orchestrated the show for ten actors who play instruments (guitar, ukulele, mandolin, banjo, clarinet, accordion), and that there's a bar on stage. And, that 300 shows later, even I still enjoy watching the show every night. Someone in Boston once remarked that Gilbert would have loved it, and Sullivan would have hated it, and I think that pretty much sums it up for G&S traditionalists! It's silly and fun and a little bit different every night and I love it.

Have you experienced the more traditional production of PIRATES OF PENZANCE before?

I've never seen a traditional stage version of PIRATES (I have seen the Kevin Kline/Linda Ronstadt version on video, years ago), but... my grandparents were both classical singers and musicians. They brought me to many operas after I started taking voice lessons in my early teens. I was never a huge fan of the story-telling style of classical opera. My grandparents and I would get into debates about what I saw as staid staging, un-involved acting and interminable, self-congratulatory curtain calls.

But, then I saw a production of THE MIKADO at Ohio Light Opera in the late 90's. I remember thinking, “Oh, this is fun!” It was a very traditional version, but it was still silly and charming and the performers were clearly having fun. It reminded me of the Victor Borge and PDQ Bach send-ups of serious music that my family also enjoyed.

When Sean Graney asked me to be in PIRATES; I thought of that production and Sean's distinctive aesthetics; and didn't have to think too hard about saying yes.

You're playing the Pirate King in this Pasadena Playhouse production. You're been an Ensemble Member and the understudy for Major General in earlier Hypocrites' PIRATES, so you must know this show inside and out.

And I just got through playing Frederic in New York!

As one who's inhabited different roles in PIRATES, is it advantageous to you to take all you've known about the show and just re-work everything for your new character? Or do you need to throw everything out and start from scratch from a new perspective?

My directing professor in college liked to remind us of the old quote “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” So, with that in mind, I've the immense fortune of getting to steal from some really talented performers while also being given a lot of leeway from Sean to make each role my own. I do like to imagine, though, that each character has a key element that unlocks them. For the Pirate King, it's definitely the cigarette holder, which Rob McLean (who originated the role) and I like to refer to as “the character.”

In spite of their obvious differences, what characteristics would you say the Major General and the Pirate King have in common?

They're both very clear about what their ethics are, are outraged when other characters affront those ethics, but then go ahead and break them without a second thought. To be really on-the-nose, both of them are hilarious Hypocrites. And they both like to tell Frederic what his Duty is. In fact, can I just change my answer to Duty? It's all about Duty. Duty!

Since you've done both, which character type would you prefer tackling - the hero or the villain?

I'm confused, which character is which? In all seriousness, I do like a good villain. I can really indulge in some shmacting. Of course, with Gilbert & Sullivan heroes, I can also indulge in some schmacting. Can I change my answer to Duty?

How did you originally connect with Sean Graney and The Hypocrites? Back in 2010, right?

I moved to Chicago to start a theatre company in 2000, and one of the first companies I became a fan of was The Hypocrites. So, I've known Sean for a long time. But I didn't work with him until I vocal coached his THREEPENNY OPERA in 2008.

So how does the company distinguish addressing you and Sean? Shawn P. and Sean G.? Or something more fun and crazy?

Heh! Good question. Unless Sean is saying “Shawn,” I basically ignore my name when I hear it at the Hypocrites. Mostly, they just call me “Pfautsch.”

I have a not-so-common first name also. So, when I meet another Gil, we have to carry on 'comparing notes.' Did you and Sean do the same when first meeting? Or have you run into a lot of other Shawns/Seans?

I know a fair number of Shawns/Seans/Shauns. But, yeah, it's unusual enough that when I meet one, we “compare notes.” Strangely enough, I know a couple of Gils here in Chicago. Let me know if you want me to put you in touch with them!

Are you familiar enough with the Los Angeles theatre scene to compare it with your Chicago theatre happenings? Or the Boston theatre vibes?

When Chicago actors talk about Chicago, they say, “But we DO have lots of film and TV!”

When L.A. actors talk about L.A., they say, “But we DO have lots of theatre!”

When Boston actors talk about Boston, they say, “We pahk the cahr in Hahvahrd Yahd.”

Or something like that.

One of the things I enjoy most about traveling with this show is getting to know each city's theatre scene and I'm excited to finally really get to know L.A.'s.

So which do you prefer - basking in the live audience responses with yourself onstage acting? Or sitting in the back of the theatre hearing the audience react to your written dialogue?

Ooh another great question! I like you!

It's harder to enjoy moment-to-moment reactions to successful acting because it's like you're driving a car really fast down winding roads. If you stop to look around, you could easily fly off the pavement and explode. You have to keep focused ahead. That said, I actually find acting more healthy for my anxiety because I don't have time to sit and worry that the next line is going to land correctly like I do when sitting in the back while watching one of my plays. But, when a joke or a catharsis that I wrote lands, I do a little dance. So… comme ci, come ca.

What is the next project on Shawn Pfautsch's radar?

Well… I'm glad you asked.

My play HATFIELD & McCOY opens January 28th back in Chicago at The House Theatre. It's a pretty drastic re-write of a script first produced in 2007. It's based on the idea that the only two books on the McCoy family mantle were the Complete Works of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. These were brutally intelligent and eloquent people and something about complete investment in those two books makes their feud make so much more sense to me. And in 2018, a story of gun-violence and domestic polarization feels even more timely than it did in 2007 (when it was first produced) to comment on the Iraq war and the Bush Administration. Matt Kahler (the Major General) collaborated on the music with me. He just wrote a beautiful love song for it that we're very proud of.

So… I've been going to PIRATES rehearsals all day and HATFIELD rehearsals all night for the last few months. It's a good problem to have, although I'm sad to miss opening night of my play.

Will the Pasadena Playhouse audience be hearing your musical strumming proficiency on the ukulele, guitar or banjo; by chance?

Guitar and mandolin! You'll have to see our MIKADO to hear my mad sax skills

Thanks again for your time, Shawn! I look forward to experiencing your Pirate King exploits.

Thanks, Gil! Nice talking with you and I can't wait to do my Duty in Pasadena!

For PIRATES OF PENZANCE ticket availability and scheduling through February 18, 2018, log onto PasadenaPlayhouse.org


It's Not A MIRACLE That Keeps Beth Grant Busy Acting - It's Her Hard Work & Big Heart That Does!

Those needing their Holiday fix of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET will have the opportunity to catch the presentation of its original 1947 radio play version at The Pasadena Playhouse (which just opened December 14, 2017). Cameron Watson directs this perennial holiday classic of Gimbels' Santa Claus featuring Alfred Molina, Peri Gilpin and Beth Grant, with Yvette Cason, Michael Chieffo, Larry Poindexter, Jim Rash and Cecelia Witt.
I had the most fortuitous chance to once again, a few weeks ago, interview the very lovely actress Beth Grant, (lovely in physicality and so lovely in heart). I have interviewed Beth many, many times in the past years while crossing paths with her at various charity events and hot-ticket shows.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Beth!
So what enticed you to mount the boards of The Pasadena Playhouse for MIRACLE ON 34th STREET?
Cameron Watson, Christmas, Peri Gilpin, Pasadena Playhouse, playing many different characters, always wanted to do a radio play, and like most people I know, love the story of hope and faith in MIRACLE ON 34th STREET. I could not say yes fast enough!
What do you remember of the movie Miracle on 34th Street the first time you saw it, (probably on TV at Christmastime)? Did it have any effect on you? Or were you too young?
I was a little girl in the South who wanted to be that little girl and live in New York and go to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade! The first time I went to Macy's after I moved to New York, it felt like I was dreaming. I couldn't believe you could actually buy things there! I got a Christmas job in the women's department at Gimbels and honestly, I thought it was just the greatest job ever.
This is the 70th anniversary of the original 1947 radio play. Are you doing the actual original radio script?
Yes, we are performing the actual radio play — with some special flourishes and some creative casting. We'll have some surprises for you!
Will you then be performing MIRACLE with minimal blocking, music stands and a foley artist?
I've heard we have a real foley artist (Jeff Gardner)! I believe Cameron Watson has created a special framing device that will delight the audience!
Not having seen the actual cast breakdown, who are you playing in MIRACLE?
Peri is Doris, the mother of the little girl, Susan. I'm playing all kinds of characters, which is thrilling. Immersing myself in different characters is sort of my “stock-in-trade” and my great joy. So this will be a challenge, but great fun for me.
How would you compare your MIRACLES characters to Grace of GRACE AND GLORIE (that you won an Ovation Award for) and to Willi of THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF A TRAILER TRASH HOUSEWIFE (that you also won an Ovation and other awards for)?
The role I always loved and couldn't wait to do is the mother of the boy who wants the fire engine, played by Thelma Ritter - in her very first film role! She's a true blue New Yorker! As is my husband (Michael Chieffo), so I better get that one right! But all of the characters I'm doing are fun and interesting, and none of them are like Willadean or Grace who were both country women, different type women, but both Southern. These characters are all New York City folk, not that they will all have New York accents, they are from very many walks of life. Still, there's not a country girl in the whole bunch!
Aside from the obvious financial compensation of the film and television mediums, what aspects of theatre vs. film vs. television do you most savor?
I love to be on stage more than anything! I love rehearsals, discovery, building the character, and practice, practice, practice! There is nothing like the communion with an audience. Every audience has its own personality! It's absolutely a spiritual experience. But I do love it all! I love movies, TV; and I've even been dabbling in Virtual Reality. I just love to create art., I just love to communicate!
Your acting dance card has been pretty full. Anybody in particular you haven't worked with, you'd still love to match wits with?
I would love to work with Annette Bening again. We did one movie— I got cut — but she is just the best. What a thrill that would be! I'd love to work onstage with my dear friend Frances Fisher. We created a web series together and really clicked. We've known each other almost our whole lives, so we are very free with each other. I'd love to work again with Octavia Spencer, Ahna O'Reilly. I'd love to work with all the greats! Allison Janney, Laurie Metcalf, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Richard Jenkins. Oh, my goodness! The list goes on and on and on. I love actors and I love acting! Bring‘em on!
What role would you love to sink your teeth into on the theatrical boards?
Cameron and I have discussed THE GLASS MENAGERIE, done the way it was done originally with Laurette Taylor. My daughter (Mary Chieffo) is a Juilliard grad who is now the female Klingon commander on Star Trek: Discovery! She's not the usual casting for Laura, but she is so good in the role. With a Southern Belle grandmother, she really hears the music of the language as Tennessee wrote it. I'd love to do an Appalachian version of THE VISIT. I've workshopped it. It really works. It has a lot to say in today's world.
You've acted in both Los Angeles and New York theaters. If you close your eyes, describe how you could tell just by the verbal responses whether the audience were West Coast or East Coast?
West Coast audiences are very giving, enthusiastic, loving, and have a terrific sense of humor. New Yorkers are great too, but I do love L.A. I moved here so many years ago, thinking I would go back to New York. Then one day I woke up and said, “Who am I kidding? I'm happy here. I love it!"
In 1988, you were part of the Marshall W. Mason-directed production of Tennessee Williams' SUMMER AND SMOKE starring Christine Lahti and the late Christopher Reeves at the Ahmanson. Was this one of your first theatrical roles on Los Angeles stage?
Before that I was in PICNIC with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gregory Harrison, Conchata Ferrell, Rue McClanahan, Michael Learned (what a cast!), which was also at the Ahmanson and also directed by Marshall Mason. I was very active in small theater as well, Ensemble Studio Theatre, when it was on Oxford where the Rogue Machine is now, and many other 99-seat theatres. When I first moved here from New York, I went right into a play, THE DEATH OF BESSIE SMITH at a small theatre on Western Avenue. I have always tried to say, "Yes!" to any theatre opportunity I can.
Any fond or fun memories you would share with us of that production of SUMMER AND SMOKE?
Chris had gone to Juilliard with my husband who was also in the play, so we hit the ground running with backstage antics. Someone made little stand-up paper dolls of all of us, and they decorated the backstage area. As Mrs. Bassett, I wore a “fat suit” and it was heavy! One night after a long week, my dresser was helping me put it on, and I ran amuck! I just ran up and down the halls like a big marshmallow! We shared many meals and many good times. Chris was a great Dr. John. We'll always cherish those memories and love him forever.
What changes for the better have you observed today in the Los Angeles theatre community from when you first step foot on the L.A. boards?
More and more theatres! More and more great companies! More original plays and musicals! More people going to the theatre.
What sage piece of advice did someone give you back when you started your acting career that you still religiously adhere to?
Always go back to the work. It's the work that counts. And my husband and I always comfort ourselves with “Slow and steady wins the race."
What words of wisdom would you impart on an acting neophyte with stars in their eyes?
Find a teacher and stick with a good one. Join a theatre group. Always have a project going... or two, or three. Stay busy. Don't complain. See how you can be of service, even to your agent! Agents need love too. It's a lot better to call with news of something you've got going on than just waiting for them to do everything! It's a partnership!
Thank you again, Ms. Grant! I look forward to seeing you light up The Pasadena Playhouse stage!
Thank you! Love you and see you SOON!!!
For available MIRACLE ON 34th STREET tickets and scheduling through December 23, 2017; log onto PasadenaPlayhouse.org