Category: Daryl H. Miller

Theater review: 'No Good Deed' by Furious Theatre Company

January 25, 2012 | 11:00 am

Gooddeed
It would be nice to cover this next bit of space with "POW"s and "ZOWIE"s. That would be a fitting fists-of-fury illustration for the tale of a playwright and a small but scrappy troupe attempting to fuse the mediums of theater and graphic novel into innovative social commentary.

For Matt Pelfrey and Furious Theatre Company, that superhero finish will have to wait for another day, however.

"No Good Deed" is an origin story about ordinary men transformed into superheroes. One character resembles Richard Jewell, the security guard who found a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics, only to be dragged through the muck. So it seems that Pelfry intends, at least in part, to comment about a world so out of whack that it longs for heroes but once it has them, jealously tears them down.

John Iacovelli provides a bleak junkyard of a set, suggesting society's sorry state; Ben Matsuya supplies visceral graphic-novel illustrations, projected in tandem with the action; and across it all, Dan Weingarten splashes comic-book-intense light.

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Theater review: Leslie Jordan's 'Fruit Fly' at the Celebration

January 10, 2012 | 11:49 am

LeslieJordan
Boys and their mamas. Theirs is a bond that Elmer's would be lucky to replicate.

Leslie Jordan clearly adores his mama. In a new one-man gab-fest he calls "Fruit Fly," the saucy actor-raconteur recalls accompanying her to the beauty shop, where he would absorb the banter and, back home, make her laugh with impersonations of the ladies -- a boyhood activity he much preferred to ball-playing.

His mother, he surmises, sensed right away that he would face some extra challenges while growing up in Chattanooga, Tenn. Quite young, he developed a flair for accessorizing with red cowboy boots, and his reading tastes ran to Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, not "those rambunctious Hardy Boys." Mom began circling the wagons so that he'd have a safe place to become the person he was meant to be.

The world now knows that person as the actor who portrayed the Tammy Wynette-channeling Brother Boy in Del Shores' "Sordid Lives," the sexually ambiguous Beverley Leslie on "Will & Grace" and the harried, muttering newspaper boss in "The Help." He's a stitch, forever innocent and boy-like at just shy of 5 feet, yet with a penchant for blue-flamed chatter that scandalizes polite society even as it triggers shrieks of laughter.

Family snapshots flash onto a screen at the back of a tastefully fussy, charmingly old-fashioned living room designed by Jimmy Cuomo. Jordan's recollections seem off the cuff, yet under David Galligan's pinpoint direction, they cycle subtly through light and dark, drawing Celebration Theatre audiences ever deeper into the story's depths.

Oh, yes, there are depths, from losing the father who "was better looking than anything Hollywood has ever put out" to the problems that Jordan created for himself -- for as much as his mother tried to smooth his way, he stubbornly roughed it up again, he confesses.

From time to time, Jordan is a bit too concise, failing to fill in details that would provide a completer picture. But one figure shines through, perfectly formed.

You're quite a mama, Peggy Ann. Thank you. And to all mamas: Thank you. We love you.

RELATED:

More theater reviews from the Los Angeles Times

Confessions of a Character: Leslie Jordan's Bumpy, Offbeat Life

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Fruit Fly," Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 18. $34. (323) 957-1884 or www.celebrationtheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Photo: Leslie Jordan, in his solo autobiographical show "Fruit Fly," tells us why he loves his mama. Credit: Matthew Brian Denman

 

Theater review: Josephine Baker tale 'Bananas!' at J.E.T. Studios

December 22, 2011 | 11:00 am

Sloan Robinson as the title character in "Bananas! A Day in the Life of Josephine Baker"
Go looking for YouTube clips of Josephine Baker's 1920s banana dance and you'll be treated to an explosion of pure playfulness as she combines the Charleston, the Folies Bergère and the hokeypokey into a free-for-all in which her hips swing with the fluid precision of a Machine Age engine.

Wearing little more than a miniskirt of fake bananas, Baker, the daughter of a St. Louis washerwoman, was a sensation in Paris.

Her fruit of choice lends its name to the biographical show that Sloan Robinson wrote and performs solo, with live underscoring by keyboardist Aeros Pierce: "Bananas! A Day in the Life of Josephine Baker."

Go bananas, though, is exactly what this show doesn't do. Robinson, as Baker, spends most of two hours merely reciting her life, like a talking Wikipedia entry, to a framed photo of Baker's deceased mother.

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Theater review: 'Bob Cratchit and Mr. Tightwad' at Secret Rose

December 14, 2011 |  4:30 pm

Cratchit
Here's one Dickens didn't think of: the Ghost of Good Intentions Unrealized, encountered in a musical remake of "A Christmas Carol" called "Bob Cratchit and Mr. Tightwad."

Katrina Wood, daughter of British film actor Percy Herbert, wrote the adaptation and songs. She has some promising ideas, as when a pair of ragpickers, stealing Scrooge's house clean in Christmas Yet to Come, break into a jaunty music hall turn. 

But the songs, a stylistic hodgepodge, are rudimentary to the point of tunelessness, accompanied by tinny, prerecorded instrumental tracks. Scrooge (Chas Mitchell) can't transform when he's so unintimidating from the start, nor can pace or purposefulness be detected anywhere else in Trace Oakley's staging.

And then there are all the jokey anachronisms. The Ghost of Christmas Present is not from Dickens' present but from ours, yet her spiky hair and sound are more Joan Jett than Katy Perry. The joke is three decades out of date. Scary. 

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Bob Cratchit and Mr. Tightwad," a rental production at Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Schedule varies; for details check www.cratchitmusical.com or (800) 838-3006. $20. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Photo: Chas Mitchell, left, as Scrooge and Jim Cox as the ghost of Jacob Marley in "Bob Cratchit and Mr. Tightwad." Credit: David Sprague / Put the Kettle On Productions

Theater review: 'Bhutan' by Rogue Machine

November 23, 2011 |  2:41 pm

Bhutan
Life might not have been perfect, but at least it seemed dependable. Now, even that little bit of reassurance is gone.

Anxiousness vibrates through Daisy Foote's "Bhutan," a grim, stubborn, at times frustrating drama that probably shouldn't work as well as it does in its West Coast premiere by Rogue Machine. But in the years since this script by the playwright-screenwriter daughter of Horton Foote was introduced in New York in 2006, the country's mood has amplified to a similar jitteriness.

At the core of Elina de Santos' taut staging is Tara Windley's portrayal of resilience and easygoing grace. These qualities belong to Frances, a New Hampshire high schooler caught between a vista-expanding friendship with a neighbor lady who travels to places like Bhutan and duty to an iron-willed mother (Ann Colby Stocking) who warns her not to think beyond her station.

Family roles have been reassigned in the years following the abrupt death of Frances' father. Mom, weary and snappish, is the breadwinner; Frances keeps the  peace and tends to the household, which also includes her slightly older brother (Marco Naggar), crushed by his own thwarted dreams, and a perpetual drop-in aunt (Tracie Lockwood) stymied by another sort of loss. 

Hugs become chains; hardness turns brittle; brave fronts dissolve into tears. The range of emotion is absorbing, less so are the script's relentless time shifts and overwrought symbolism (the struck by lightning imagery is particularly groan-inducing). But truthful performances carry the day.

This story doesn't offer much uplift, but it sure feels like life.

— Daryl H. Miller

"Bhutan," Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A. 5 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays and 8 p.m. Nov. 28 and Dec. 5. Ends Dec. 18. $25 and $30. (855) 585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Photo: Tara Windley, left, and Ann Colby Stocking portray daughter and mother of the hardscrabble family in "Bhutan," presented by Rogue Machine. Credit: John Flynn / Rogue Machine

It's that old rug pulled out from under us feeling that accompanies each economically fraught nail-biter of a day.

Theater review: 'All My Sons' at the Matrix

November 1, 2011 | 11:52 am

AllMySons

Arthur Miller wrote perceptively about family, especially the family we call America. Layering abstraction atop realism, he worked symbols and multilevel meanings into lifelike dramas, guiding audiences along multiple avenues of insight.

This multiplicity is richly evident in Miller's 1947 breakthrough play, "All My Sons," particularly when approached with as much alertness to nuance as producer Joseph Stern, director Cameron Watson and 10 intuitive actors bring to their presentation at the Matrix Theatre. Problem is, this production overthinks an awful lot, tying ideas into such knots that audience members have a hard time straightening out the intended meanings.  

At the Matrix, Joe Keller, an up-by-his-bootstraps manufacturer, is African American and Kate, his plain-spoken, practical wife, is white. Their once-close neighbors, now estranged and living far away, are Asian American. This may better reflect the America of 2011 and may open additional alleyways of meaning, but the approach is at odds with itself, because in all other ways the production remains clothed in 1947, when anti-miscegenation laws and other forms of segregation still blanketed America. What's more, some of the alleyways prove tricky to navigate, including a deprecatory use of the word "yellow" that acquires a newly racialized connotation that no one on stage seems to realize.    

Emotionally, though, this production is a gut-puncher. The laughing, untroubled Joe we meet at the beginning deflates before our eyes as circumstances peel away self-deceptions about defective items his company shipped to fulfill a war contract. Alex Morris plays it with aching humanity. As Kate, the ever-amazing Anne Gee Byrd is at once sharp and commanding, frayed and fragile. Similarly gripping are A.K. Murtadha and Linda Park as the next generation, on the verge of slipping into another cycle of incremental compromise and deepening self-interest.

RELATED:

Theater review: 'All My Sons' at the Geffen in 2006

The eternal theater of Arthur Miller, an appreciation by author Carlos Fuentes

Arthur Miller and the American polity, a review of the essay collection "Echoes Down the Corridor"

— Daryl H. Miller

"All My Sons," Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends. Dec. 18. $25. (323) 960-7773 or www.matrixtheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Photo: From left, Linda Park, A.K. Murtadha, Alex Morris and Anne Gee Byrd in "All My Sons" at the Matrix Theatre. Credit: Karen Bellone.

Theater review: 'Engaging Shaw' at the Old Globe

August 8, 2011 | 12:18 pm

Shaw
"No woman has defeated me yet," George Bernard Shaw, at 41, pointedly tells a friend who's dared to suggest that Shaw has met the woman to whom he should propose.

Marriage, Shaw feels, is a distraction, a diminishment. Or, as he later puts it, "an abomination and a nightmare."

These sentiments are expressed in a play called "Engaging Shaw," about the acquaintance and early relationship of Shaw and his future wife, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, in the middle 1890s. We know how the story ends before it's begun, but getting there -- through spirited debate, heated emotion and the occasional flinty spark of desire -- is thought-provoking fun. 

John Morogiello's comedy, being given its West Coast premiere at the Old Globe, incorporates material from Shaw's works and letters, as well as essays by Sidney Webb and diary entries by wife Beatrice Webb. The Webbs, like Shaw, were leaders of the Fabian movement of socialism.

Shaw, the critic, playwright, devoted socialist and playful egotist, is front and center not only as a character but as a model. The play is written like one of his ("Pygmalion," for instance), with talk zipping in thrilling, dizzying circles. Rod Brogan portrays him with a sprightliness that suggests he likes to shock people.

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Theater review: 'Out of My Head' at Pico Playhouse

August 4, 2011 |  3:00 pm

"Out of My Head"

Some people live in their heads, some in their bodies. A lucky few live in both.

The characters in "Out of My Head," a mini-musical presented by the Mechanicals, desperately want to be in that last category. So off to group therapy they go.

The songs are by Ryan Scott Oliver, Pasadena-born, now stirring up developmental grants and workshops and getting noticed. Some of these numbers have been knocking around for a few years; Kirsten Guenther wrote the script for this expanded show.

The pop-meets-Broadway sound is a bit Jason Robert Brown-ish -- a league Oliver isn't in yet but may achieve.

It would be better to let the songs stand alone than to preface them with dialogue that is little more than a checklist of mental states -- narcissism, hypochondria, closeted sexuality and so on -- divided among five vocalists.

On Saturday of opening weekend, several of the voices, powerful though they were, veered off-pitch. On-pitch, though, were the pacing and visual panache, overseen by director Jacob Harvey and handily facilitated by Maxwell T. Robin's stylish set and mood-setting projections.

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Out of My Head," Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 21. $21 in advance, $25 at door. www.mechanicalstheatregroup.com or (323) 524-8351. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Photo: Robyn S. Clark, left, and Anna Bowen in "Out of My Head," presented by the Mechanicals Theatre Group. Credit: Matthew Murphy.

Cast album reviews: The American sound of Broadway

August 3, 2011 |  6:00 am

Rad Broadway might not be the place you'd expect America to go to do its soul-searching, but it's a surprisingly introspective place nowadays, as several musicals tickle forth insights about our national character.

Listen in, via the recently released cast albums for "Catch Me If You Can," "The Book of Mormon" and the Daniel Radcliffe-starring "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." (Individual reviews follow on the extended post.)

For further examples of American themes now on Broadway, you might go back and listen to the revivals of "Chicago" and "Hair," as well as 2010 Tony winner "Memphis."

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Theater review: 'Dysnomia' at the Lounge Theatre

July 21, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Dysnomia Marriage. Parenting. Life after 40. All pose questions that leave us groping for answers.

They're particularly tough for the central character in "Dysnomia," a new play by Marja-Lewis Ryan. This suburban mom and career woman, portrayed with lump-in-the-throat believability by Heidi Sulzman, might at first seem to be a garden-variety narcissist, whining about her lack of fulfillment. But as she struggles to find words for what's wrong (hence the play's title), we see that an essential part of her hasn't been expressed.

Soon she's redefining -- and risking -- her relationships with her husband (Trevor H. Olsen), children (Ryan Stathos as a bored kid who's acting out, Isabella Palmieri as his precocious sibling) and friends (Jessie Warner and Monroe Makowsky). Comradeship comes in the form of a tag-along Thanksgiving guest (playwright Ryan).

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