Category: Open Fist Theatre Company

Theater review: ‘Moon Over Buffalo’ at Open Fist Theatre

March 1, 2012 |  5:00 pm

MOON OVER BUFFALOOpen Fist Theatre Company continues to flaunt its retro screwball comedy chops with Ken Ludwig’s “Moon Over Buffalo,” a follow-up to last year’s hit revival of “Room Service.” Sporting much of the same manic energy as its predecessor (not to mention several cast and crew holdovers), the production is helmed once again by Bjørn Johnson, whose facility with orchestrating whirlwind slamming doors, mistaken identities, arch innuendos and other tropes of backstage farce is once again apparent. B.H. Barry’s fight choreography adds stylized panache.

Set in 1953 Buffalo, Ludwig’s showbiz satire depicts the behind-the-scenes unraveling of a matinee performance by a touring repertory company run by fading stage veterans George (David Ross Paterson) and Charlotte (Wendy Phillips), whose marriage is on the rocks. The ragtag troupe grapples with keeping Charlotte from running off with the family lawyer (Johnson), sobering up George from his despairing bender, finding a replacement for the trusting ingénue (Laetitia Leon) he’s knocked up, and a career-reviving film opportunity hanging in the balance with the news that Frank Capra is in the audience. Their inability to figure out whether they’re performing “Cyrano” or “Private Lives” results in a disastrously loopy mash-up of the two plays.

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Theater Beat looks at the best of 2011

January 4, 2012 |  5:00 pm

Hermetically
The Times’ Theater Beat reviewers – Philip Brandes, F. Kathleen Foley, Margaret Gray, David C. Nichols and Charlotte Stoudt – spend the year prowling Los Angeles area theaters, especially the smaller ones, and providing their opinions of what they see there every week on Culture Monster and in the Friday Calendar section.

Here are some of their favorites (and a few less favored) of 2011 theatrical offerings.

Best New Play:

Charlotte Stoudt: Tie between “Pursued by Happiness,” by Keith Huff, staged at the Lankershim Arts Center by Road Theatre Company and “Extraordinary Chambers” at the Geffen

Kathy Foley: A tie between Nick Salamone's “The Sonneteer” at the Gay and Lesbian Center's Davidson/Valentini Theatre, and Tom Jacobson's “House of the Rising Son,” Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles' production at the Atwater Village Theatre.

David C. Nichols: “House of the Rising Son” by Tom Jacobson

Philip Brandes: Penned in the early 1900's, the pair of one-acts from “Peter Pan” creator J.M. Barrie in “Barrie: Back to Back” weren't technically new, but leave it to Pacific Resident Theatre to re-discover long-neglected chestnuts with tremendous heart.

Margaret Gray: “Girls Talk” by Roger Kumble

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Theater review: ‘Machinal’ at Open Fist Theatre

October 20, 2011 |  9:00 pm

‘Machinal’ at Open Fist Theatre
Though written in 1928 and ripped from the headlines of a sensational contemporaneous murder trial, very little about Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal” feels dated. That’s due as much to Treadwell’s forward-looking modernist vision of urban dehumanization as to her idiosyncratic stylistic voice, which downplayed topical references in favor of more abstract representation.

Don’t expect warm hugs as Open Fist Theatre’s edgy revival achieves the author’s intended clinical Brechtian detachment, though some aspects of the piece could be more effectively realized. In this nine-segment tale of an office worker-turned-trophy wife-turned-murderess, perfectly-cast Charlotte Chanler brings wild-eyed desperation to the dangerously haunted protagonist, a young woman sketched in broad generic strokes (we only learn her name is Helen in a passing aside). Nevertheless, Chanler nails the play’s icy rage as the young woman’s longing for freedom is thwarted at every turn by forces of socio-economic oppression, anticipating feminist dialectics by several decades. 

Opening with her dead-end clerical job in a nameless office where employees move and speak like extensions of the machines they work on, the young woman’s only escape is through loveless marriage to her smug, condescending boss (and excellent Arthur Hanket). Though her discontent with traditional avenues of fulfillment is palpable, the vacancy at her core keeps her from being any more sympathetic than her oppressors. The depiction of her wedding night, as her lecherous husband bounces her on his lap like a gangly rag doll, shows off Barbara Schofield’s staging at its creepy, furious best.

Despite standout supporting performances from Marilyn McIntyre and Elizabeth Greer, some scenes lose focus in a meandering compromise between archetypal elements and period specificity, without a consistent commitment one way or the other among the sprawling ensemble.

–- Philip Brandes

“Machinal,” Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 20. $25 (pay-what-you-can Friday and Oct. 30). (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Photo: John LeMay, Charlotte Chanler, Daniel May and Elizabeth Greer. Credit: Maia Rosenfeld.

Theater review: 'Quake' at Open Fist Theatre Company

July 19, 2011 |  7:00 pm

QuakeimageIf you think it’s impossible to earn an MBA in two hours, D. Tucker Smith’s “Quake” may change your mind. By the end of this contribution to the Open Fist Theatre Company’s First Look Festival, whether you want to or not, you will be qualified to steer a small company through a corporate takeover.

Smith, also the author of “The Great Game” (which may be on its way to Broadway), sets her latest work at Bindiger’s, a family-owned Long Island department store succumbing to the economic downturn of 2005. Ambitiously, she uses the troubles of a handful of employees in the patio furniture division to illuminate the human condition, touching on topics as diverse as 9/11; the 1988 earthquake in Spitak, Armenia; racism; betrayal; the incompatibility of kindness with professional ambition; and breast cancer. 

Smith’s dialogue is naturalistic, with some lyrical touches, and her layered characters give the cast plenty to work with. Ray Abruzzo (Little Carmine on “The Sopranos”) is lovely as the kind, avuncular Artie, Bindiger’s COO, who spends his evenings sitting by the ocean (evoked by Dan Reed’s dappled lighting) nursing stiff drinks and private griefs. Marc Aden Gray plays Barry, a cutthroat salesman who has it in for up-and-comer Diego (a sweet, low-key Alex Pierce), with impressive conviction.

Perhaps the evening’s overwhelming tedium is a result of its leisurely directing, by Smith with Anjali Bhimani. Or the script’s prioritization of verisimilitude over drama: You may start to think you're at “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” sipping your fifth soda while your dad yammers on about patio furniture. (My date suggested “The Banality of Retail” as better title than “Quake.”) The plot attempts to crescendo into visceral histrionics, but the most earthquake-like moments are the blackouts, which resound with the thuds and crashes of the backstage crew.

-- Margaret Gray

Quake,” Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. $25. Ends Aug. 27. Show times vary; for complete schedule contact (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Photo: Artie (Ray Abruzzo, left) and Barry (Marc Aden Gray) debate business ethics in "Quake" at Open Fist Theatre Company. Credit Maia Rosenfeld.

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