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.


Audio Interview: The Cast of Sugar Plum Fairy at East West Players

The story of Sugar Plum Fairy, based on Loh’s original offering on This American Life, follows a 12 year-old Sandra and her over-the-top dream of landing the lead in the inevitable dance school production of The Nutcracker. Loh and friends are pitted against the vicious hierarchy of desirable roles in this well-weathered ballet, while she desperately yearns to be recognized as a pre-teen queen in her own right. The play features Shannon Holt and Tony Abatemarco in a rotation of quirky characters from her misfit friends to a rigid Russian ballet instructor, as well as being co-conspirators in spreading some literal holiday cheer around the theater. Wittily set to a classical music score (a la Disney’s Fantasia’s hippopotamus ballerinas), Sugar Plum Fairy is knitted together with moments of audience participation, and attendees are encouraged to dress in their most festive outfits, prepare for sugary showers of candy, and get photos for the ‘gram with Yuletide-themed set designs that include reindeer, an animatronic Santa, and even, if you’re lucky, Frosty the Snowman.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of "Sugar Plum Fairy" at East West Players, playing through Dec 22nd. 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


JOAN OF ART: Never Is Now - A Powerful Play, A Must See Film About A True Legend and a Night of Magic

What makes a play memorable? For me it's one that moves me emotionally and one that makes me think. NEVER IS NOW is just such a play. There are some events in history that are very hard to visit, but at the same time, it's so important that we do just that, which brings me to this world premiere directed by Tony Abatemarco and Celia Mandela Rivera playing at the Skylight Theatre. I've seen numerous productions put on by this theatre company and have never been disappointed. They do excellent work and this production is no exception.

The play asks the question...What happens when people from diverse backgrounds experience the first hand accounts of ten survivors who were labeled 'undesirable' and thrust into Hitler's systematic genocide.?

Award winning playwright/producer Wendy Kout disturbingly links then and now so we may understand what breaks us apart and embrace what bonds us together. NEVER IS NOW according to Wendy is just the beginning of the conversation.

This is a theatre experience that you will be thinking about long after the curtain falls. I know I was. You can see this play Fridays at 8:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm & 8:30pm and Sundays at 2pm through October 27th.

Skylight Theatre is located at 1816 1/2 N Vermont Ave in East Hollywood, 90027. To purchase tickets go to SkylightTheatre.org or call 213-761-7061.

When I was a little girl my grandmother told me that her favorite singer was a woman named Judy Garland. After watching her films over the years, she became one of my favorite singers as well.

On Friday, September 27th, the film JUDY starring the brilliant Renee Zellweger opens and having seen it, I predict she will win the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress. She absolutely nails the part. Not only is her portrayal of one of the world's greatest entertainers right on point, when Renee sings, she sounds just like Judy capturing Garland's emotional intensity.

JUDY takes place during the winter of 1968 when the singer arrived in London to perform a five week sold out run at The Talk of the Town. As she prepares for each show, we journey into her past and get to understand why the singer was so tormented and had to resort to drugs and alcohol to ease her pain.

The film features some of Judy's best known songs, celebrates her voice and shows the audience why she had such a desperate need for love and constant reassurance. Don't miss it!

Next to seeing great plays and films I love watching magic shows and that's exactly what I'll be doing this Saturday night. Ivan Amodei, one of my favorite magicians, will be performing at Janet & Ray Scherr Forum Theatre located at 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd in Thousand Oaks. Ivan is considered to be one of today's most gifted illusionists.

His show is entitled Secrets & Illusions and having seen it twice before, I promise you, it's one you won't forget.

Ivan could easily settle for just amazing people, but he does so much more. Whether it's his world class sleight of hand, fantastic storytelling or mind-blowing mentalism, every 'trick' embodies a powerful truth about empowerment and hope. He has won six People's Choice Awards for Best Entertainer and his long running show Intimate Illusions was a Top Pick by the Los Angeles Times.

If you love magic as much as I do, than Ivan Amodei is the magician to see. For tickets or more information go to IvanaModei.com, CivicArtsPlaza.com or call the Civic Arts Plaza box office at 805-449-2787.

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


JOAN OF ART - A Cinematic Masterpiece starring Brad Pitt, A Swinging Good Time, and Surviving the Darkest Time in History

AD ASTRA is a film set in the near future about one man's physical as well as psychological journey into space. The film is, in one word...brilliant.

It stars Brad Pitt who gives one of his best performances of his career as Astronaut Major Roy McBride who is sent on a deeply classified mission to investigate a rash of solar surges coming from Neptune that threatens the existence of Earth's survival. Roy's father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) who has been presumed dead for years is being blamed for the occurrence.

Clifford McBride a renowned astronaut was sent to Neptune 29 years ago to search for intelligent life, but he never returned. Now U.S. intelligence believes that Clifford is alive and responsible for the calamities that are taken place on our planet.

As Roy travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet, his journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our own place in the cosmos.

The film co-written by James Gray and Ethan Gross has stunning visuals, great special effects, but in the end, it's all about Brad Pitt.

Brad is in every scene and he is absolutely mesmerizing. This is a sci-fi film like no other. There are no aliens...just a man exploring outer space and most importantly his own inner world. Come Oscar time, Brad is definitely going to get a nod for his fine work.

AD ASTRA which is a popular Latin phrase meaning 'to the stars' opens in theaters nationwide on Friday September 20th. Do not miss it!

After exploring the depths of our galaxy I think it would be fun to get up and dance and by dance I mean 'swing' to the sounds of the best big band group around today, BIG BAD VOODOO DADDY.

In case you're unfamiliar with the group, they are a contemporary swing revival band from Southern California that in 2018 marked their 25th anniversary. Since its formation in the early nineties in Ventura, the band has toured virtually nonstop, performing on average, over 150 shows a year with record sales of over two million to date.

Their notable singles include 'Go Daddy-O', 'You & Me & the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight' and 'Mr. Pinstripe Suit.' I've seen them numerous times and can't wait to see them this Saturday evening, September 21st at The Canyon Club.

Doors open at 6pm and they go on at 9pm. The Canyon Club is located at 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills CA 91301. For tickets or more information call 818-879-5016 or go to WhereMusicMeetsTheSoul.com.

Two weeks ago I saw a beautiful, sad, fascinating play entitled THE CHINESE LADY which actually was a fascinating history lesson. The play is at the Greenway Court Theatre located at 544 North Fairfax Avenue in LA and one that I highly recommend.

Inspired by the true story of America's first female Chinese immigrant, THE CHINESE LADY is a dark, poetic, yet whimsical portrait of America through the eyes of a young Chinese woman, Afong Moy (the excellent Amy Shu).

Afong is just 14 years old when she's brought to the United States from Canton in 1834. She is put on display for the American public as 'The Chinese Lady.' For the next half century she performs for curious museum goers showing them how she eats, what she wears and the highlight of the event, how she walks with bound feet.

As the decades wear on, her celebrated sideshow comes to define and challenge her very sense of identity. Sharing the stage with Amy is Trieu Tran, a powerful actor who plays The Chinese Lady's translator. This is definitely 'a must see play.'

For tickets and show times please go to GreenwayCourtTheatre.org.

Now there's another great music event going on this weekend and it's happening at the Shrine Auditorium. Lenny Kravitz, a four time GRAMMY award-winning singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist elevates the union of rock 'n roll, funk, blues and soul he patented in 1989 and will be performing for one night only on Saturday, September 21st.

He is all about raising vibration. In his own words, Lenny feels that 'we need to reach higher.' 'We need to be more thoughtful, spiritual, loving and open. He says 'we need to stop thinking of borders, boxes and imaginary forms of separation.' 'We're all on planet Earth together and we must do better.' After reading these words, I can promise you that this will be one amazing concert.

The Shrine is located at 665 West Jefferson Blvd in LA. To buy tickets or for more information call 213-748-5116 or go to ShrineAuditorium.com.


STAGES OF DOUBT: AN ANALYSIS OF THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION IN AMERICAN THEATRE – PART 5

To read Part 1 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 2 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 3 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 4 of this series, please click here.

Chicago's Assassination Theater began in 2015 with a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign providing the world with one more reason to rue the internet. Playwright Hillel Levin rehashes a similar stew of the half-baked theories that Oliver Stone served up in JFK, but Levin incorporates information supplied by James Files. Presently serving a fifty year sentence for the murder of two police officers, Files has been claiming since 1994 that he was hired by the mob to kill Kennedy. He maintains that Oswald was brought into the conspiracy to be the fall guy, and that Jack Ruby was the hit man assigned to kill Oswald to keep him “quiet.” That Levin discounts the findings of the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassination each of which dismissed any mob connection to JFK's killing but accepts the word of a convicted killer is somewhat mind numbing. Files' story itself falls apart almost immediately. For example, he claims Oswald drove him around Dallas for five days prior to the assassination. As Oswald clocked in at work each of those days at the Book Depository and was observed by his supervisor and co-workers we must assume either Files is lying or the entire Texas School Book Depository staff is part of the conspiracy. Then there is the question of why the mob silenced Oswald to keep their involvement secret but have let Files “rat” them out for the last 24 years. Levin's Assassination Theater is two hours of preposterous claims, the most preposterous of which is that the mob not only arranged the killings of JFK and Bobby Kennedy but was behind Giuseppe Zangara's 1933 assassination attempt on Franklin Roosevelt. I'm surprised Levin didn't reveal the mob had a hand in rubbing out Julius Caesar.

Another advocate of the mob theory is Playwright William Mastrosimone. Mastrosimone who wrote the 1992 CBS miniseries Sinatra, contends that during their meetings, Frank Sinatra spilled the beans to him about the mob's involvement. In 2013 Mastrosimone shared what he'd learned from ‘Ol Blue Eyes in Ride the Tiger. Notice was not paid.

Playwright Daniel Henning's 2016 work, The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare) is another of the better crafted plays concerning the assassination, even if one that still lacks in historical verity. Henning, founder director of Los Angeles' The Blank Theatre, like Garson's MacBird! harkens back to Shakespeare for his play's binding concept, but unlike Garson, chose to endow his offering with the gravitas of Greek drama.

Selecting Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for his template, Henning skillfully overlaid the events of March 15, 44 B.C.E. with those of November 22, 1963. RFK is Mark Antony with a Boston twang, and JFK walks in the shadow of the doomed Gaius Julius Caesar.

Henning hems closer to Shakespeare's characterization of Brutus in depicting Johnson as a reluctant conspirator drawn into the murderous plot by a Machiavellian J. Edgar Hoover.

Nor does the playwright shy away from employing large sections of Shakespeare's verse intact and reframing some of the best known lines to fit his needs, going as far as to have the dying JFK lament, “Et tu, Lyndon?”

While Henning is a talented playwright which explains the strength of his piece, he is also widely regarded as an “expert on the JFK assassination” a distinction given him by those who apparently aren't.

Henning is very well versed in the Mythos of the assassination, he may even be an expert on that subject, but having a great treasury of rumors, second hand reports and misconceptions on an event is a far cry from having an expertise of the actual history.

For Example, Henning opens his piece with a presentation of the “Dramatis Personae” as each of the characters converges on stage, into a kind of Greek Chorus-chorus line, and identifies themselves with a snippet of background information.

It's here, at the very beginning, where Henning's errors and oversights begin. He has John Connelly, the Governor of Texas who was wounded while riding in the same limo as Kennedy, state that he is “convinced beyond any doubt that I was not struck by the first bullet.”

In this seeming dismissal of the so-called “magic bullet theory” put forth by the Warren Commission Henning is cherry picking his history.

Disgusted at being used by those bellowing a conspiracy brought down Kennedy, Connelly went before the press in 1966 to put his views on the public record. “I am convinced,” he stated, “beyond any doubt that I was not struck by the first bullet, but just because I disagree with the Warren Commission on this one finding does not mean I disagree with their over-all findings.”

Connelly never questioned the Commission's conclusion that Oswald acted alone, he simply maintained that he fired four shots, not just three.

Henning has Lady Bird describing herself as coming from a wealthy family who owned newspapers and radio stations. This statement is half true. She did come from wealth, but her father Thomas Jefferson Taylor made his fortune from land investments and retail merchandising. There were no newspapers or radio stations.

It was Lyndon Johnson, in 1943 while still just a congressman, who bought his first radio station, KTBC, and did so under Ladybird's name. Johnson would acquire many more radios and TV stations, making him arguably the richest man ever to occupy the White House but every sale was under Ladybird's name.

This is a stunning error for Henning to have made, in that he claims to have written his play after being inspired by Robert Caro's monumental 3 volume biography of LBJ in which Johnson's acquisition of his media empire is well covered.

Henning filmed his play in 2017 using many of the same actors from its L.A. premiere including Time Winters as LBJ/Brutus and Tony Abatemarco as Hoover/Cassius each of whom gave excellent performances on stage. The combination of a fine cast and Henning's well crafted, if factually flawed script, is reason enough to look forward to the film finding distribution.

…the final post of this series


Audio Interview: The cast of “Sugar Plum Fairy” at Skylight Theatre

Sugar Plum Fairy is a thoroughly original story about a 12 year-old girl who dreams of dancing the lead in The Nutcracker with a cast of characters you won't forget!
Enjoy an offbeat holiday treat that Adults and Kids love! Join in if you like, (think G-rated “Rocky Horror” fun) and don't forget to wear your ugly holiday sweater, tutu or silly Hanukah hat. It's 75 minutes of madcap merriment that will send you home smiling!*
Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Sugar Plum Fairy” at Skylight Theatre, running until Dec 23rd. 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