Category: Charlotte Stoudt

Theater review: 'The Language Archive' at East West Players

November 10, 2011 |  3:30 pm

If marriage is a long plane ride, do you share the window or strand your mate in the middle seat? Such dilemmas define “The Language Archive,” Julia Cho’s sweet, meandering comedy now in revival at East West Players. 

Linguist George (the excellent Ryun Yu) studies dying languages with a passion. “The task is quite Sisyphean,” he tells us — but is he speaking of ancient tongues or efforts to connect with his wife, Mary (Kimiko Gelman), a frequent crier who leaves passive-aggressive notes in her husband’s morning tea. Relationship fluency even fails Resten (Nelson Mashita) and Alta (Jeanne Sakata), an older couple who refuse to use their rare, mellifluous native dialect to fight — they prefer English for insults. Meanwhile, George’s assistant, Emma (Jennifer Chang), struggles to learn the universal language of Esperanto, even though there’s only one person she longs to converse with. 

For all its lovelorn characters, “Language” is a play of ideas, a style reinforced by set designer Francois-Pierre Couture’s giant wall of multicolored filing cabinets that open to reveal doors, recording devices and secrets. Add E.B. Brooks’s vibrant, slightly fairy-tale costumes and a certain wonderful smell, and the overall effect is a sensuality that deepens what can sometimes be more of an essay than a story. (You may also find yourself pretty hungry by the curtain call.)

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Theater review: 'Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy' at LATC

November 8, 2011 | 10:30 am

It’s hard to twist and shout when you’re trained to duck and cover. In “Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy,” Evelina Fernández assembles a theatrical mix tape of a Latino family facing the Cold War, domestic strife and the infectious sound of rock 'n’ roll circa 1962.

Accompanied by an on-stage pianist, Ben Taylor, the Garcia clan sings, dances and squabbles on Francois-Pierre Couture’s crisp, sherbet-shade house set. Mouthy Gina (Esperanza America Ibarra) dominates younger sister Betty (Olivia Delgado) and brothers Johnny (Keith McDonald) and sensitive Bobby (Dru Davis). Missing from the picture is their father (Geoffrey Rivas), forever stepping out on his wife, Elena (Dyana Ortelli), who turns to a devoted friend (Sal Lopez) for support.

Director José Luis Valenzuela makes strong use of his design team: Urbanie Lucero’s smooth choreography to hits like “Please Mr. Postman," Cameron Mock’s moody lighting, and Raquel Barreto’s costuming create a heightened style. The results are delicious moments like Betty’s wide-eyed phone calls to JFK and Castro to stop the Cuban missile crisis, or Davis crooning “Mister Sandman” as the family sits on their Phoenix lawn in darkness, the electricity bill unpaid.

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Theater review: 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' at Pasadena Playhouse

November 7, 2011 |  4:30 pm

Never mind the A train -- you can get to Harlem on the 134 to catch Pasadena Playhouse’s jubilant, stylish revival of “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” In director Sheldon Epps’ confident hands, Pearl Cleage’s 1996 dramedy set in the Harlem Renaissance feels as smart and tart as star Robin Givens’ sequined flapper shifts.

“Blues” made its away around the regional circuit a decade ago, but somehow it feels fresh. Maybe that’s because uptown New York circa 1930 looks awfully familiar: rampant unemployment, culture wars and fierce battles over gay rights and abortion. But people dressed a lot snappier in the Jazz Age, or at least they do in this production, with Karen Perry’s knockout costumes central to the story.

Guy (Kevin T. Carroll) dreams of designing outfits for Josephine Baker, but in the meantime he’ll settle for dressing Angel (Givens), a jobless chanteuse recently dumped by her gangster beau. Angel sets her cool eye on recent transplant Leland (Robert Ray Manning Jr.), a solemn widower looking to fill a hole in his heart. Across the hall, Delia (Tessa Thompson) wants to open a family clinic with the help of Sam (Kadeem Hardison), a doctor who delivers bootleggers’s babies when he’s not pulling long shifts at Harlem Hospital. Everybody has a dream, but the rent money’s running out. How long can a wish be deferred?

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The Spotlight: Casey Stangl directs Antaeus' 'Peace in Our Time'

November 2, 2011 |  9:45 am

Nazis occupying the houses of Parliament. Churchill shot by an SS firing squad. Noel Coward’s alternative history of World War II, chillingly imagined in his 1946 drama “Peace in Our Time,” is now on stage at Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood. The production by the Antaeus Company, says the play's director, Casey Stangl, offers us a chance to examine our ideas of patriotism. With a few musical numbers thrown in.

How was this new version of “Peace in Our Time” created?

Three years ago, then-artistic director Jeanie Hackett made a connection with the Coward Foundation to discuss bringing Coward to new audiences. The foundation gave Antaeus member Barry Creyton permission to do the adaptation. The original version is long-winded and has political references we don’t know. Barry cut it while retaining the wit and the characters. Now there’s a laser-beam focus. The other idea was to add songs.

We associate Noel Coward with dry martinis and witty banter. This play shows a different side of him.

I think of Coward as being so removed in his comedies; there’s always a certain barrier. Here, his heart’s on his sleeve. There’s a longing for heroism. How can individuals band together and make something change?

There are rumors Coward served in the British Secret Service.

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Theater review: 'Pulp Shakespeare' at Theatre Asylum

October 27, 2011 |  4:30 pm

Vincent (Aaron Lyons) and Jules (Dan White) make a dashing pair in "Pulp Shakespeare”
Hit men Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield would relish their Elizabethan counterparts in “Pulp Shakespeare,” the droll exercise in fan fiction now at Theatre Asylum. Her Majesty’s Secret Players and Combined Artform have transposed Quentin Tarantino’s cult favorite from 1990s L.A. to 16th century London: Jack Rabbit Slims becomes the Slender Hare, guns become daggers, and the F-bomb is neutralized into prepositional phrases (“Thine ears, have they been plugged with wool of lamb?”) Some things remain the same: There’s a mysterious case everyone wants, and the erotic possibilities of the foot massage remain hotly debated. Oh, and a lot of people get beaten up or killed.

A hit at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, this brisk homage plays it straight, and director Jordan Monsell finds some nice moments of suspense (and does a funny turn himself in Christopher Walken’s role).

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Theater review: 'Jane Fonda' at Edgemar Center for the Arts

October 20, 2011 |  6:00 pm

“Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion,” now at Edgemar Center for the Arts
In 1988, Jane Fonda met with a group of Connecticut veterans protesting her efforts to film “Stanley & Iris” in Waterbury. No record exists of what was said, but Terry Jastrow has imagined the showdown in his awkward but absorbing “Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion,” now at Edgemar Center for the Arts.

With a pastor (Steve Voldseth) playing referee, Fonda (Anne Archer) confronts seven angry veterans, from wheelchair-bound Don (Don Swayze) to Ivy Leaguer Larry (Jonathan Kells Phillips). Their accusations are interspersed with period footage projected above the stage. Jastrow did extensive research, speaking with Fonda, veterans (although none who attended the meeting consented to interviews), and even her guides for her notorious 1972 trip to Hanoi. The result plays as an uneven mix of compelling historical detail and soapy group therapy, with a curious void at the center: the character of Fonda herself. The elegant Archer is poised to the point of detachment; no one expects an impersonation, yet little about her evokes Fonda’s polarizing vibe.

Jastrow and co-director Michelle Danner don't do his material any favors; the project deserves another pass by a director who can shape the piece into a strong stylistic whole. But whatever you think of Fonda, the 1970s clips cut deep: fresh-faced vets describing atrocities committed by fellow American soldiers; Nixon plotting on tape with Kissinger; and a young, luminous Fonda, smiling uncertainly as she enters, earnest and unaware, the maw of history.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion” Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. 2 p.m. performance Sunday, Oct. 23. No performances Thanksgiving weekend. Ends Dec. 4. $34.50. Contact: (310) 392-7327 or Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Photo: Don Swayze, from left, James Giordano, Anne Archer, and Jonathan Kells Phillips. Credit: Ed Krieger.

The Spotlight: Patrick J. Adams in 'Nine Circles' at the Bootleg

October 19, 2011 |  9:29 am

Patrick J. Adams is having a good run. After working a brogue and a kilt in playwright Bill Cain’s Ovation Award-winner “Equivocation” at the Geffen Playhouse two years ago, the Toronto-born Adams snagged a role in the much-anticipated HBO drama “Luck,” the horse-racing series written by David Milch ("Deadwood," "NYPD Blue") and directed by Michael Mann. 

Adams followed that with a lead in the USA legal dramedy “Suits,” playing a quick-witted con artist who makes a living taking other people's bar exams — until he's hired by a law firm that expects him to actually practice law.

Now the actor is back on the L.A. boards in another award-winning play by Cain, opening at the Bootleg Theater: “Nine Circles,” the story of an Army private recently returned to the U.S. with an honorable discharge, only to find himself engaged in a fight for his life.

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Theater review: 'The Dinosaur Within' at Boston Court

October 13, 2011 |  3:10 pm


John Walch’s evocative, overstuffed “The Dinosaur Within,” now at the Boston Court, has plenty to say about overcoming loss, but can let ideas bury its emotions.

Gorgeously directed by Michael Michetti, this ambitious drama weaves three mysteries, ingeniously linking celebrity handprints in Hollywood with the sacred tracks of a dinosaur in Australia. Middle-aged Maria (Shauna Bloom) struggles to find an identity apart from her long-lost father and movie-star mother, Honey (Mimi Cozzens in the present, Emily Kosloski in flashbacks); Aussie Eli (Nic Few) abandons Aboriginal tradition (embodied by his father, played by VJ Kesh) to make it big in L.A.; newspaper editor Jerry (Chuck McCollum) can’t recover from the sudden disappearance of his son, Tommy (Ari Skye), 10 years ago.

Any one of these stories merits its own play, and Walch struggles to service all of his characters, their pasts, and the considerable exposition required to get this epic up and running. Michetti and his impeccable design team give Walch’s fever dream elegant shape; Francois-Pierre Couture’s desert landscape set, a twilight outback of the mind, allows the players to move smoothly between past, present, and imagination. Cozzens and Kesh are masterful, and McCollum breaks your heart as a man trying to do the impossible. Despite the big ideas, it’s the details that land: Jerry rebuilding his son’s bike; a time-traveling cigarette lighter; and finally, Tommy holding a wishbone: “What do I have to break,” he wonders, “to make my wish come true?”

--Charlotte Stoudt

“The Dinosaur Within,” Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 6. $27-$32. Contact: (626) 683-6883 or Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

Photo: Emily Kosloski and Nic Few in “The Dinosaur Within.” Credit: Ed Krieger


Theater review: 'Way to Heaven' at the Odyssey Theatre

October 6, 2011 | 10:00 am

The Third Reich’s mastery of stagecraft is a chilling fact of history, but the forced performances of Theresienstadt’s Jewish prisoners may be Hitler’s darkest perversion of theater. Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga’s stiff, harrowing “Way to Heaven,” now at the Odyssey Theatre, details this strange acting exercise with the rigor of a surgeon.

The audience enters the stark, shadowy theater space to see a desk, a bookcase, a bench and a ramp: banal exhibits of a lost world that then comes to life. (The scenic design is by Frederica Nascimento.) A Red Cross worker (Michael McGee) recounts his uncanny visit to the camp — a trip he must make again and again in his mind, as he failed to see what was right in front of him: that the contented children and smiling young lovers of Theresienstadt’s Jewish community were putting on a show for visiting officials to quell rumors of Nazi atrocities. Bad actors faced with expulsion and certain death; these prisoners were literally giving the performance of their lives. The bulk of the play is a two-hander in which the commandant (Norbert Weisser) and a prisoner (Bruce Katzman) “collaborate” on scripting and blocking this bizarre production. 

Mayorga’s outrage can become oppressive, and sometimes director Ron Sossi treats his subject matter with too much reverence. (Both are understandable responses, but they turn drama into preaching.) “Way” isn’t easy viewing, but there is something bracing about its clarity and moral power. Mayorga’s true-life fable anatomizes our persistent urge to see what we want to, instead of the truth. 

-- Charlotte Stoudt 

“Way to Heaven,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. See schedule for performance times. Ends Dec. 18. $25 and $30. (310) 477-2055 or Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo:: Norbert Weisser, left, and Bruce Katzman in "Way to Heaven." Credit: Enci.

Review: 'Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show' at Old Globe

September 27, 2011 | 12:45 am

  Kit Treece, from left, Matt McGrath, Laura Shoop, and Andrew Call in "Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show"
This post has been corrected. See note below for details.

Didn’t we pass a castle back there? No, San Diego, I don’t mean the Mormon spires visible from Interstate 5. The lair of Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, pansexual mad scientist and mascara whore, is just up ahead in “Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show,” now campily revived at the Old Globe. O'Brien's giddy 1973 sci-fi cult classic has now breached the tasteful bulwarks of regional theater, and one suspects the subscription sales manager is getting some interesting phone calls. 

A quick recap for the uninitiated: Squeaky-clean couple Brad (Kelsey Kurz) and Janet (Jeanna de Waal), lost into a convenient rainstorm, seek aid at a peculiar mansion full of people dressed for a 1980s Madonna video. Their host (Matt McGrath), a Dionysus in thigh-highs, quickly divests them of their damp clothes and inhibitions, as they embark on an odyssey of sexual discovery and hard-driving rock numbers (the five-piece band led by Mike Wilkins is excellent, but curiously out of place without wearing corsets).

Channeling Judy Garland and Dirk Bogarde, McGrath (a last-minute replacement for James Barbour), has the charisma and ease to command an audience, but he’s all dolled up with nowhere to go — storywise, that is. For all its nifty rear projections, dry ice, and artfully constructed leather gear, this “Horror” shares the identity crisis of Rocky (Sydney James Harcourt), the naughty doctor’s homemade test tube hottie: It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to express, other than a lively affection for the 1975 film. But if you aren't a Transylvanian or a devotee of "Glee," you may have trouble even following what's going on.

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