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Shuffle, Shuffle, Step

Three Plays by Samuel Beckett
 VARIETY  LA WEEKLY  LOS ANGELES TIMES
 BACKSTAGE WEST  DAILY BREEZE  REVIEWPLAYS.COM

 

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REVIEWS
 Los Angeles Times  Backstage West  
     

 


2006 so far...

 


VARIETY:
 
Shuffle, Shuffle, Step: Three Plays by Samuel Beckett
 

(Theatre/Theater; 29 seats; $15 top)
 
A Theater Z, in association with Theatre/Theater, presentation of three one-act plays by Samuel Beckett. Directed and designed by R.S. Bailey.
 
Rough for Theater

A - Billy Hayes
B - Jeff Murray
1 Footfall

May - Mary Dryden
Voice - Nicolette Chaffey
Krapp's Last Tap

Krapp - R.S. Bailey
 
By JULIO MARTINEZ

Theatre/Theater inaugurates its seventh Los Angeles-based legitlegit house in 24 years with a bleak but facile perusal of three short works by one of the 20th century's most elusive scripters, Samuel Beckett. Helmer R.S. Bailey, the first American invited by Beckett to work with him, captures the playwright's stark, minimalist, deeply pessimistic view of human nature and the human condition. In an eerie exercise in underachievement, Bailey's competent thesps immerse themselves in the jagged sounds and rhythms of Beckett's desolate folks, sublimating any flicker of human aspiration.

The short opening works, "Rough for Theater 1" and "Footfalls," focus on the underbelly of human interaction. Each offers a sliver of the extreme negativity people are capable of when trapped in relationships.

More a work-in-progress than a viable stage play, "Rough for Theater 1" is an exercise in emotional torture, as a wretched, blind street beggar (Billy Hayes) is confronted by a vociferous cripple in a wheelchair (Jeff Murray). As each maneuvers to serve his own self-interest, their life-scarred psyches obliterate any possibility of them uniting for their common good.

With a more realized concept, "Footfalls" impressively distills the lifelong adversarial relationship between a grown daughter (Mary Dryden) and her heard but unseen mother (Nicolette Chaffey). Dryden's May personifies the never-ending friction of their relationship by scraping her feet across a stone floor as she methodically paces back and forth, periodically responding to the disapproving voice of mom. Dryden counterpoints the tragedy of May's existence by performing a hopeful little pirouette each time she turns to retrace her dogged steps.

"Krapp's Last Tape""Krapp's Last Tape" focuses on one cathartic evening in the life of a 69-year-old recluse (Bailey), a desolate soul who has never been able to carry though on any of his life's goals. Krapp's failures are underscored by the spools of recorded tapes he has painstakingly labeled and chronicled through the years.

The tapes represent a spoken diary of his life; Bailey creates a tantalizing pas de deux between Krapp's current state of mind and his more youthful recorded persona. Bailey impressively communicates Krapp's rage, torment and sadness as he listens to a tape, recorded 30 years earlier, describing a moment on a boat with a girl "in a shabby green coat" when he could have made a decision that would have changed his life.

Bailey's stark production design, complemented by the empathetic lights and sounds of Ammil Garrison and Michael Shiver, respectively, offers the properly austere setting for the jaundiced efforts of a playwright who had little faith in humankind.
 
Lighting, Ammil Garrison; sound, Michael Shiver. Opened, reviewed Jan. 6, 2006; runs through Feb. 11. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.



 

BACKSTAGE WEST:
Shuffle, Shuffle, Step: Three Plays by Samuel Beckett
January 12, 2006
By Dany Margolies

It's a solid cast, tidily directed, performing three lesser-known one-acts by one of the 20th century's playwriting gods. And so we're fairly satisfied, sitting there, observing and thinking and possibly feeling. But on opening night, toward the end of Krapp's Last Tape, there was a moment when the actor, his character's anger boiling over, pulled at the reel of tape and struck the hanging lamp above his head. The light swung slowly, changing the shadows on the actor, seeming to change the perspective through which we saw him. It is either extraordinarily detailed direction-as seems to be the case with much else here-or a happy fortuity that the actor allows to continue and seems to relish. In either case it's extremely fine skill, as here the actor and director are the same: R. S. Bailey.

In Krapp's Last Tape the elderly Krapp listens to a recording of himself, "the stupid bastard I took myself for 30 years ago," focusing on one segment when he recounts trying to make love in a boat. Let's leave all the meaning up to the scholars. This 45-minute piece passes quickly, yet it lets the audience do so much: appreciate the craft, ponder the text, suffer the draining emotions.

 

Bailey also adeptly directs the other two one-acts, playing in repertory with Krapp. In Footfalls, May shuffles across the stage-nine steps, one half-turn, nine more steps, another turn-talking to someone she calls Mother (beautifully voiced by Nicolette Chaffey), "revolving it all, it all in my poor mind." Mary Dryden plays May with ghostly frailty, Dryden not imposing on us her decisions of who May is and what she is doing.

In Rough for Theatre One two men--one blind and one lamed-meet on a "street corner in ruins." They discuss compensating for each other's disabilities, then engage in the ultimate power play. Billy Hayes plays the blind character A, barefoot and filthy, sawing at a decrepit violin; Jeff Murray plays character B in a wheelchair made of a shopping cart to look rather like a throne. The two actors seem magnetized to each other, giving huge amounts of energy, focusing deeply, struggling for their characters' lives because they are not unhappy enough to die.

Beckett wanted no bows for the actors; the company gives itself none. Too bad. In this case the actors more than deserve them.

 

 

Presented by and at Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. "Footfalls" and "Krapp's Last Tape," Fri. 8 p.m.; "Rough for Theatre One" and "Krapp's Last Tape," Sat. 8 p.m. Jan. 6-Feb. 11. (323) 466-3134.


Recommended!
LA WEEKLY
: SHUFFLE, SHUFFLE, STEP

Theatre/Theater inaugurates its capacious new venue with this bill of one-acts by Samuel Beckett, under R.S. Bailey's well-calibrated direction. All three plays embrace familiar Beckettian themes: loss, alienation, the toll of decay, and the seeming futility of existence. Rarely produced, Rough for Theatre One, much like Waiting for Godot, is a tale of an encounter, here between blind A (Billy Hayes) and the wheelchair-bound B (Jeff Murray) on a desolate street corner. Clearly, these two slovenly wretches are made for each other, but their association is equal parts depravity and need. Cosiderable power is generated by Beckett's sparse, biting, but often humorous prose that reveals the shared attraction and repulsion at the core of this strange meeting. Both performances are carefully modulated between grotesquery, comedy and pathos. Footfalls is a hauntingly beautiful piece based upon the death of the playwright's mother. May (Mary Dryden) has devoted herself to her cruel, aged mother and is reduced to pacing hypnotically back and forth on stage, while periodically engaging in an eerie, reflective interior monologue. Bailey does a fine acting turn in the title role of Krapp's Last Tape. Gray-haired, wheezing and decrepit, Krapp is on the downside of life at 69. Caught in the merciless tentacles of doubt and despair, he is reduced to listening to a tape from 39 years ago that chronicles a love affair and a time "when there was still a chance of happiness." Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (Krapp's Last Tape will be presented at every performance; Footfalls, Fri. only; Rough for Theatre One, Sat. only) ; thru. Feb. 11. (323) 466-3134. Written 01/12/2006 (Lovell Estell III)

 

January 13, 2006
LOS ANGELES TIMES

THEATER BEAT
Theatre Z's 'Shuffle' gets Beckett right

By F. Kathleen Foley, Special to The Times

If not done precisely, Samuel Beckett's works can be purgatorial, as anyone who has suffered through botched Beckett can tell you. Fortunately, director-designer R.S. Bailey, who worked with Beckett on a 1977 production of "Krapp's Last Tape" in Berlin, avoids the obvious pitfalls in "Shuffle, Shuffle, Step," the inaugural production of Theatre/Theater's handsome new space on Pico Boulevard. Produced by Theatre Z in honor of Beckett's centennial year, the three short Beckett plays in "Shuffle" are strikingly austere and meditative, with flashes of gallows' humor as faint as the shadow of a noose on an overcast day.

Appropriately, Bailey plays Krapp in the closing play. One of Beckett's most celebrated characters, the elderly, isolated Krapp continually replays his own tape-recorded diary - a litany of missed opportunities and lost love. Although Bailey's cherubic and youthful appearance is somewhat at odds with his sadly attenuated protagonist, it's a touching, cautionary tale, well-rendered.


Finely calibrated also is the middle play, "Footfalls," performed by Mary Dryden as May, and Nicolette Chaffey as the voice of May's offstage mother. Dead-eyed and affectless, May paces the same nine steps, back and forth, while her mother querulously repeats, "Will you never have done?" Whether they are the pointless peregrinations of a madwoman or some desperate attempt at expiation, May's actions - and Dryden's performance - are affectingly enigmatic.

The show opens with "Rough for Theatre I," a precursor to Beckett's masterwork, "Endgame." Billy Hayes plays A, a blind street musician in a bleak wasteland. In a vaulting, Shakespearean turn, Jeff Murray portrays B, domineering and disabled, whose attempts to exploit A explode into violence. Vivid and larger-than-life, Murray elucidates the poetic beauty of Beckett's elusive text in the strongest performance of this rewarding evening.

"Shuffle, Shuffle, Step," Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. ("Footfalls" will be performed Fridays only, "Rough for Theatre I" will be performed Saturdays only.) Ends Feb. 11. $15. (323) 466-3134. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

 

THE DAILY BREEZE

On stage: Beckett's voice heard in 'Shuffle, Shuffle, Step ...'

BY JIM FARBER
RAVE!

During his lifetime, Samuel Beckett, the father of theater of the absurd, was meticulously demanding about how his plays were to be performed.

A craftsman of unusual specificity, he conceived the details of his creations at a level that many might find, well, absurd: such as the exact sound a pair of slippers should make as they slide across the floor; and the precise manner in which a finger moves in space as it activates a tape recorder.

"After I'm dead," he reportedly said, "I don't care what people do."

R.S. Bailey, director of "Shuffle, Shuffle, Step: Three Plays by Samuel Beckett," (which opened Jan. 6 at L.A.'s Theatre/Theatre), worked directly with Beckett in Berlin in 1997. As a result, Bailey brings to these three short plays a sense of authenticity, as if the master was speaking directly to his audience from the grave.

It is this sense of bloodline connection, combined with the skill of a fine ensemble of actors, that makes "Shuffle, Shuffle, Step" a compelling dramatic experience.

Of the three plays, "Krapp's Last Tape," which stars Bailey as the obsessed antihero, Krapp, is by far the best known. Beckett's grim portrait of a bitter old man who lives like a badger in his den and relives the past through a series of recorded birthday messages, is iconic.

"Footfalls," which depicts the gradual destruction of a woman who has sacrificed her life to care for her invalid mother, is known, but hardly familiar.

The real surprise is "Rough for Theatre I," a fascinating study that may have laid the groundwork for the characters of Hamm and Clove in "Endgame." For some reason, Beckett never allowed the play to be performed during his life -- so it is a resurrected treasure.

All three plays were performed on opening night. But for the rest of the run, unfortunately, audiences will have to chose between seeing "Krapp's Last Tape" either with "Footfalls" or "Rough for Theatre I." It's a tough choice since the latter two are fascinating, rarely seen works, both superbly performed -- the former by Mary Dryden, the latter by Billy Hayes and Jeff Murray.

In "Rough for Theatre I" the lights come up on the bent, disheveled figure of a blind man (Hayes) who scrapes tunelessly on a dilapidated fiddle. His scraping, however, is sufficient to draw an equally crumpled, wheelchair-ridden old man (Murray) from his lair. What transpires is a fascinating, push-pull, claw-and-scratch study in evolving mutual dependency.

A desire to experience any form of human contact, combined with a basic need to survive, drives both men to overcome their fear, until the man with eyes that can see, and the man with legs that can move test out the possibilities of a symbiotic relationship. Hayes and Murray are compelling as these two adversarial would-be allies.

"Footfalls" is pure Beckett in style, as a distraught woman in a long dress and shawl paces back and forth as her footfalls score a path of sorrow into the surface of the stage. The story, on the other hand, could be drawn from Charles Dickens, about a woman who has sacrificed whatever chance she had to find happiness in life to care for her demanding invalid mother.

The demeaning ritual of her slavish dependency is symbolized by the endless footfalls of her pacing. Step by step, word by cruel word, she is diminished in her ability to withstand the pressure, gradually succumbing to the relentless weight of so much emotional submission. Dryden gives a powerful performance, eloquent in its spareness, as she reacts to the disembodied voice of her demonic mother (Nicolette Chaffey).

"Krapp's Last Tape" is actually two performances in one. The actor (in this case Bailey) appears as the title character in the last stage of his life: bent, bitter and eruptively violent. His life in the present is simultaneously mirrored by the voice that emerges from the tape recorder. He is a contrast of himself: old and young, grim and hopeful, spiteful and loving, to a point where he finds the contrast overwhelming.

Krapp is a role that has tested many a fine actor. To plumb its emotional depths, and, at the same time, deal with the preciseness of Beckett's instructions -- including the exact way to peel a banana -- is an actor's challenge of the first order.

On opening night, Bailey's performance paid religious attention to the specifics of Beckett's instructions, but was less convincing in its ability to convey the deep emotional core of the character. But like Hamlet, Krapp is a role that grows in the playing, and Bailey's performance is on the right track.

As time goes by, fewer and fewer productions of Beckett's plays will be able to trace their lineage back to the master. In "Shuffle, Shuffle, Step" that voice rings true.

 

"Shuffle, Shuffle, Step: Three Plays by Samuel Beckett" plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 11 ("Krapp's Last Tape" is performed each night, accompanied by "Footfalls" on Fridays and "Rough for Theatre I" on Saturdays), Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $15. For information, call 323-466-3134.

REVIEWPLAYS.COM: Shuffle, Shuffle, Step: - Three Short Plays by Samuel Beckett

Theatre/Theater

This year marks the 100th birthday of Samuel Beckett and Theatre/Theater has bravely leapt to the occasion by mounting three of the intrepidly avant-garde playwright's groundbreaking one-acts in observance of what the man himself once referred to as the "awful occasion."

Under the blanket title Shuffle, Shuffle, Step, it proves a fascinating evening, perfect for introducing the community to the seventh new home of Jeff Murray and Nicolette Chaffey's 24-year labor of love, as Theatre/Theater must be credited for being one of the most prolific and steadfast theatrical entities responsible for the evolution of live theatre in Los Angeles, helping to transform it from colorless showcasing to high art over the last couple of decades.

Directed by R.S. Bailey, the first American asked by the playwright to work with him after meeting in Paris in 1973, Shuffle, Shuffle, Step offers a jarringly reverent, highly personal vision of these three now-classic works with which Bailey clearly identifies from his own history with the pieces and his relationship to their innovative creator. Bailey's correspondence with Beckett and personal notes on the changes in the text of Krapp's Last Tape, which brought him to West Berlin in 1977 at the writer's request when Beckett directed his own play at the West Berlin Academy of Art, are archived at Atlanta's Emory University

Featuring five lovely, committed performances and starkly simple but effective design elements which are actually heightened by the continual hum of traffic from Pico Boulevard on the other side of the wall, Bailey's reverent direction is by far the major asset here, as he unmistakably understands the master's voice and fiercely protected scripted pauses and rhythms better than anyone else possibly could.

The first piece, Rough for Theatre 1, was developed after Beckett expressed concern to Bailey that his familiar characters from Endgame and Waiting for Godot were continuously interpreted as master-slave associations. "He referred to them rather as relationships of mutual torture," says Bailey. Beckett told him his writing was instead meant to imply that one character "tortures the other physically while the other tortures the one mentally." Beckett also mentioned he was working on a new piece delving into just that topic, which turned out to be Rough for Theatre 1.

In it, a supposedly blind street beggar called A (Billy Hayes, whose infamous book about his real-life experiences in a Turkish prisoner became the 1978 Oscar winner Midnight Express) is alone until the screeching tires of the wheelchair-bound B (Murray) jar him into a conversation about how the two can link together for a better life. "Do you like company, Billy?" the vociferous B asks the bewildered A. "Do you like tinned food, Billy?"

 B browbeats A until he can no longer stand it, taking B's request to push his chair as his chance to physically react against his oppressor. As in the better known Godot, the two friends-combatants parry back and forth both verbally and through sparse movement. "Why don't you let yourself die?" B asks A, who considers his answer thoughtfully. "I'm not unhappy enough," A finally decides.

The acting here is flawless, with Murray's grandly presentational style an odd and almost palpable curiosity as set against Hayes' simple and highly direct delivery-which their director indubitably intended, particularly with his ear so firmly placed against the grave of his friend, the world's first and great dramatist of the absurd.

This is also echoed in the dynamically economic performance of Mary Dryden in Footfalls, the second piece of the evening, a piece surely responsible for at least one of the blanket title's Shuffle-s. As May paces back and forth across the stage wandering in and out of Bailey's eerily atmospheric lighting, the disembodied voice of her disapproving mother (Chaffey, who's golden tones are as clear and hypnotic as any could be) becomes a continuous drip of another dose of Beckett-ian verbal Chinese water torture. "Will you never have done revolving it all?" Mother asks, to which her daughter just offers a hopeful little turn at each corner as she orbits away her sad little existence. When the voice ultimately stops its relentless harangue, all that's left is poor May, still shuffling through the paths she's carved into the floor, living a life of exaggerated nothing at all.
Nowhere does ol' Sam's disillusionment with humanity resonate more than in his one-person Krapp's Last Tape, which Bailey himself performs with amazing corporeal poignancy. Alone and abandoned by everything and everyone, Krapp spends his hours listening to the recorded diaries of his earlier years, letting the sorrow of advanced age form a remarkably sad counterpoint to his youthful enthusiasm. As he spools and respools Tape 5 from Box 5, his loneliness descends as though it were a second character to respond to. "With all this darkness around me," he says, "I feel less alone." This is the evening's most noteworthy achievement for Bailey, who gently and lovingly attempts to reveal a great playwright's all-too evident disenfranchisement with the blissfully ignorant la-de-da of life in the middle of the last century. 

Are there druthers here? Yes, some. As brilliant and daring and fearless as the works of Beckett were to their befuddled audiences in their original premieres, in many ways, performing his works has lost a lot of its power to stimulate and shock. Although he was a true pioneer, it's all been done repeatedly since. Occasionally, Shuffle, Shuffle, Step's intrinsic monotony becomes more indulgent than effective, the fault of the passing decades since these pieces were created, not anything to blame on this precision, graciously admiring, spectacularly worshipful production. "I'll not hear a human voice again," A wails in Rough for Theatre 1, to which B snaps back, "Haven't we heard them enough?" How amazing it must have been to see these plays unfold for the first time all those years ago.

 

Shuffle, Shuffle, Step plays through Feb. 11 at Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd. , Los Angeles . For tickets, call (323) 466-3134.


 

*RECOMMENDED* LATIMES

directed by Matt Skaja

produced by Branden Morgan

March 3-April 16

$20 Fri/Sat 8pm Sun 7pm

Reservations (818) 752 9253

 

Los Angeles Times

A Betrothal of Comedy Styles

Seventeenth century Italy meets Lorne Michaels in "The Betrothed" at Theatre/Theater. If this Italian pastiche by Jon M. Berry is not quite the berries, it is often hilarious and generally agreeable.

Berry resets various classic archetypes - two scheming fathers, their unhappily espoused children, clownish servants and secret amours - with a postmodern viewpoint and hambone verbal style. Designer Bayeux Morgan's solid Venetian setting and the strumming of composer-guitarist Bryon Hatcher drip Renaissance. However, the genial troupe of buffoons that romps along in commedia-meets-sitcom manner is closer to "Saturday Night Live" than to Carlo Gozzi.

Thus, money-mad Dottore Gratiano (Ingo Neuhaus) looks like Drew Carey and sounds like Johnny Carson. Jeff Murray plays his cohort Pantalone as a traditional buffo widower, by way of Carl Reiner. As their respective progeny, Branden Morgan's weepy Oratio and Kate Woodruff's daffy Flaminia upend standard juvenile/ingénue aspects.

Jed Mills as an ancient retainer with a cheesy Italian accent and Misi Lopez Lecube and Alan Gaskill as furiously swashbuckling Spanish siblings steal the evening, and their colleagues are certainly rambunctious.

Matt Skaja directs them fairly well, although the goofy wordplay and rubber-goose ruckus needs some tightening to keep collegiate coyness at bay. Not all of the slapstick matches the punctuation from sound-effects lackey Sam Rovin, and some passages need the actors to slow down and speak up. Yet by the time Nicolette Chaffey descends upon Act 2 as the braying, Cockney-toned plot pivot, most quibbles have long since dimmed in the face of such charmingly lowbrow enthusiasm.
- David C. Nichols

"The Betrothed," Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends April 16. $20. (818) 752-9253. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

BACKSTAGE WEST

The Betrothed
March 16, 2006
By Madeleine Shaner

A scrappy mixture of slightly tarnished commedia, pantomime slapstick, collegiate high jinks, opéra bouffe, nightly television, shtick, and scurrilous improvisation raises the rafters in Theatre/Theater's new space to a new high, or stoops to a new low, depending on the perceived angle of the dangle. Jon M. Berry's frolic is neither fish nor foul nor farce, but it is funny for the most part--cunningly clever in spots--when it's not being deliberately obnoxious and, despite the dizzying meld of acting styles and the seemingly interminable length, adds up to genuine, lowest-common-denominator entertainment.

With the classic scheme of star-crossed lovers, misdirected parental marital strategies (Jeff Murray as the amiable Pantalone, father of the bride; Ingo Neuhaus as the Latin-spouting Gratiano, father of the doomed groom), the discovery of long-lost relatives, distraction, destruction, disguises, strife, spite, seduction, chastity and the blatant lack of it, dropped drawers, temporary transgender attacks, and a little jousting, there's plenty of something for everyone. Warranting particular mention are the well-tempered and exquisitely acted performances of Misi Lopez Lecube as the stunning Isabella; Alan Gaskill as Spavento with Kate Woodruff as Flaminia, the lovers; Branden Morgan as Oratio, the desolate groom; and Nicolette Chaffey as Burratina, the baker with a sack load of secrets under her bustle. Bryon Hatcher's live score provides the essential ambiance.

 

 

Particularly effective are the scenes when the whole of Venice seems to be onstage; the action shifts into overdrive and suddenly becomes lip-synched opera (music and lyrics by Berry, vocalizations by Andrea Herron). Matt Skaja's direction lacks the precision a play of this genre demands-too shrill too often and, blame it on the playwright, requiring too much untangling of the huge, confusing cast of characters, all of whom operate in overwhelmingly youthful high gear all the time. Bayeu Morgan's set design (with Travis Farmen) and Murray's lighting design back up and enhance the elaborate costuming by Emil Ross (with seamstress Gabrielle Guglielmelli).

 

 

Presented by Alpha Co. in association with and at Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Mar. 3-Apr. 16. (818) 752-9253.




CREATION MYTHS. Article by LA WEEKLY writer Steven Mikulan

THEATRE IN EXILE Article by LA WEEKLY writer Steven Leigh Morris


2007 REVIEWS

 Do Lord, Remember Me

   
     
     


David C. Nichols of LA Times raves...
 
***CRITIC'S PICK***
 
"James de Jongh's docudrama, drawn from recorded interviews of ex-slaves in the 1930s, transcends reader's theater contours through the power of its content."
 
"[S]pirituals [are] beautifully overseen by Paul Wong as [a] unifying motif."
 
"Credit also goes to the wonderfully controlled Chromolume Theatre Company production, which played last fall at the Raven Playhouse."
 
"The cast is superb. Bambadjan Bamba, Rodney J. Hobbs, Shavonda Mitchell and Annzella Victoria trump every challenge handed them, and Arthur Richardson goes for the jugular, especially as Nat Turner.
 
"They elucidate and entertain at once, and that, coupled with the undeiable authenticity makes 'Do Lord Remember Me' quietly unforgettable."
 

FullReview:February 13, 2007

 

THEATER REVIEW

Powerful voices of slavery ring in 'Remember Me'

 

By David C. Nichols, Special to The Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The force of unexpurgated truth distinguishes "Do Lord Remember Me" at Theatre/Theater.

James de Jongh's docudrama, drawn from recorded interviews with ex-slaves in the 1930s,

transcends reader's theater contours through the power of its content.

 

Originally performed in 1977, "Do Lord Remember Me" stems from oral histories compiled

during the Depression by the Federal Writers' Project. Although De Jongh conflates some

individuals, his text comes verbatim from the transcribed memories. Using spirituals -

beautifully overseen by musical director Paul Wong - as unifying motif, "Do Lord

Remember Me" may offend the politically correct with its use of the N-word and Southern

patois. Yet that's how its subjects spoke, and De Jongh honors their voices.

 

These recollections unfold against designer James Esposito's backdrop reproduction of the

woodcut of a shackled slave that appeared with John Greenleaf Whittier's "Our Countrymen

in Chains." It's all here: the auction block, outwitting of white masters, enduring starvation

and sexual exploitation, broken families, the Union Army, emancipation.

 

Whether earning laughs from homespun superstitions or jerking tears with accounts of

unthinkable cruelty, the script gives the lie to countless Hollywood stereotypes and rivets

the house.

 

Credit also goes to the wonderfully controlled Chromolume Theatre Company production,

which played last fall at the Raven Playhouse.

 

The cast is superb. Bambadjan Bamba (in for Parnell Damone at the reviewed performance),

Rodney J. Hobbs, Shavonda Mitchell and Annzella Victoria trump every challenge handed

them, and Arthur Alonzo Richardson goes for the jugular, especially as Nat Turner.

 

They elucidate and entertain at once, and that, coupled with the undeniable authenticity,

makes "Do Lord Remember Me" quietly unforgettable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Provenzano of LA Weekly raves...

 

***RECOMMENDED***

 

"Designer James Esposito's stark sound design and nearly-bare stage are complemented by Laura Russell's elegant costumes and Christopher Singleton's gentle lighting to create a production supported by, but not depending upon, technology."

 

"The star here...is musical director Paul Wong's gorgeous work with the five fine performers on a capella versions of such traditional songs as 'Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,' 'Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen' and the play's title song."

 

"Director Wilson Bell repeats the fine staging from the production's earlier life at the Raven Playhouse that easily navigates the actors and the audience through scores of characters...'"

 
 

LA Weekly

 

***RECOMMENDED***

This remarkable piece by James de Jongh juxtaposes true-life testimonials from former slaves, recorded in the 1930s, about horrors they encountered at the hands of white masters with the stirring beauty of the Negro spirituals that helped so many through the antebellum South. While most of these tales are upsetting, there are also generous helpings of humor from the period. Designer James Esposito's stark sound design and nearly-bare stage are complemented by Laura Russell's elegant costumes and Christopher Singleton's gentle lighting to create a production supported by, but not depending upon, technology. The star here, however, is musical director Paul Wong's gorgeous work with the five fine performers on a cappella versions of such traditional songs as "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" and the play's title song. Director Wilson Bell repeats the fine staging from the production's earlier life at the Raven Playhouse that easily navigates the actors and the audience through scores of characters. (Tom Provenzano)

 

CHROMOLUME THEATRE COMPANY at THEATRE/THEATER, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 25. (323) 938-3700.
Stephanie Lysaght of LA Weekly raves...

 
***RECOMMENDED***
 
"Next time you hear some guy bitching about how there's no good theater in L.A., hogtie him, toss him into your car and drive straight to the Raven Playhouse for Wilson Bell's staging of Do Lord Remember Me; that ought to shut him up."
 
"I was wishing that Arthur Alonzo Richardson, as Slave, would never leave the stage. His ability to inhabit each of his characters is incomparable, and his soulful performance is tempered by touches of playfulness, even in the darkest scenes."
 
"With such heavy subject matter, it's amazing that this production is so much fun. Despite the immeasurable pain these ex-slaves endured, the final, prevailing sentiment is not bitter, but grateful, that 'God done spared a few o' us to tell da tale.'"
 
 
Jim Crogan of Backstage West raves...
 
***CRITIC'S PICK***
 
"Chromolume Theatre Company's revival of James de Jongh's 1982 workshop project, which details the lives of ex-slaves and the horrors of their experiences, uses the most important elements of documentaries to create a dramatic production that is moving, funny, tragic, and, above all, provacative."
 
"The cast, three men and two women, is terrific."
 
"Arthur Alonzo Richardson delivers superb renditions of a slave on the auction block and Nat Turner who was hung for leading a slave rebellion."
 
 
Gail Roberts of Tolucan Times and Canyon Crier raves...
 
"Do Lord Remember Me delivers an emotional package..."
 
"The stories...are skillfully performed by the five member cast..."
 
 
Rich Borowy of Accessibly Live Off-Line raves...
 
"Wilson Bell directs this show that contains theatrical elements that showcases its entertainment value..."
 
"The production itself is very moving from its honest dialogue and very tight from its staging."

 




2008

THEATER BEAT

August 1, 2008

 

Imagine a recession art-directed by Edward Hopper, and you're in "American Dead," Brett Neveu's spare tale of Midwestern obsolescence, now receiving its West Coast premiere by Rogue Machine and John Perrin Flynn. Ian Garrett's sprawling, dilapidated set is a hodgepodge of buildings that have given up the ghost: crooked screen doors, sagging lintels, a row of rusty school lockers.

 

Lewie Froah (Mark St. Amant) wanders his near-empty hometown like a deadbeat Ancient Mariner. He's mourning the unsolved death of his sister, Grace (Deborah Puette), killed in a store robbery. Grace's husband (David Paluck) has remarried and is moving away; a dwindling local population has even closed the high school. But at a dusty bar tended by the officious Bill (a droll Bradley Fisher), a quiet stranger (Darin Singleton) stops in for beer -- and a fateful encounter with Lewie.

 

The play isn't in a hurry; it meanders in, a grubby stranger keeping to himself. Slowly, though, Neveu's world reveals itself: fugitive connections that accumulate into a story you find yourself investing in -- due in large part to "Dead's" impressive cohesion of direction, design and performance. Garrett's set, Leigh Allen's eerie lighting and Bob Rokos' sound design all work to focus Neveu's elliptical storytelling. Director Dado is a Steppenwolf alum, and the Chicago ensemble's signature features -- the ground-level desperation of working people, the awkward truth of the lived moment, sudden explosions of violence -- feel strongly in evidence.

 

The play chases its mysteries only so far. The question of what to do with the dead -- a way of life or a family member -- isn't fully explored. But Neveu and this excellent company ponder the dilemmas of the living with tenderness and admirable simplicity.

Charlotte Stoudt

 

"American Dead," Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends Aug. 24. $25. Contact: (323) 960-7726. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.


Theater Reviews: American Dead,

By L.A. Weekly Theater Critics

Monday, July 28, 2008 - 6:00 pm

 

GO AMERICAN DEAD Brett Neveu's play, first commissioned by Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago - where the playwright earned his wunderkind reputation before immigrating to the film and TV biz out here - recalls an early stage work by Lanford Wilson, Rimers of Eldritch. Both works place their focus on the subtleties and vagaries of plain talk by plain folk, Midwesterners whose cities are rusting, whose farms are being foreclosed and bought out, yet they endure with pleasantries, verbal niceties that become lifeboats bobbing over depths of anguish and violence in the making. This places on the actors and director the burden of responsibility for capturing the unspoken truths beneath the hollow veneer of words. Chicago emigré Dado stages the kaleidoscope of scene with meticulous attention to subtext and the language of facial ticks and flinches, of sadness emerging vaporlike from still faces. The play's event concerns a long-ago shooting of a local sheriff's deputy (Deborah Puette) and clerk (understudy Daniel Montgomery) in a grocery store robbery by unknown assailants, and the attempt by the woman's partner, (Paul Dillon), to find the killers. The chipper barkeep (Bradley Fisher) asks a whole bunch of questions to out-of-towner Dennis (Darin Singleton) regarding a news story of Dennis' son hiding himself away, and the play slowly funnels in on a conversation Dennis heard in prison, which could be a missing link to the ancient investigation. The play's core, however, comes from the murdered deputy's forlorn and bewildered brother (Mark St. Amant), who has become both an alcoholic and an idiot savant - desperate for the attention of his late sister's widower (David Paluck), as he and his new wife (Ann Noble) pack to move out of town. The play seems superficially trite for a while, until we adjust to the production's languid rhythms, and its portrait of lingering grief. Dado's staging even overcomes the venue's echoey qualties, which double the actors' workload. The ensemble work is finely tuned, while Ian Garret's atmospheric platform set and Leigh Allen's tender lighting design add visual poetry to the lament for somebody and something having slipped away so pointlessly. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 24. (323) 960-7726. A Rogue Machine production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

 

 

 

 

July 31, 2008

By Les Spindle

In its West Coast premiere, this drama, developed by Chicago's Steppenwolf company, is a knockout effort from fast-rising playwright Brett Neveu (Eric LaRue). His work - though recalling elements of Sam Shepard, Tracy Letts, and Larry McMurtry - is blessed with its own distinctive style. Director Dado's brilliantly acted production crackles with dramatic electricity.

 

In a staid community in the Midwest, the lives of deputy sheriff Grace Tisdale (Deborah Puette) and a stock clerk (Matthew Scott Montgomery) were lost during a grocery store holdup. A few years after the tragedy, Grace's brother Lewie (Mark St. Amant) is unable to let go and move on, drowning his grief in alcohol and spending time in vacated local buildings, where he feels the presences of his sister and the young boy. As Doug (David Paluck), Grace's widower, prepares to move away with his new wife, Lisa (Ann Noble), Lewie struggles with the impending loss of the final link with his dead sibling. Another wrinkle is added to Lewie's emotional turmoil when a former resident (Darin Singleton) with a secret makes a return visit.

 

St. Amant's alternately comic and poignant take on the childlike Lewie is mesmerizing. The actor inhabits this difficult role with an unflinching mastery of vocal and physical characteristics that evoke the despair behind Lewie's fumbling attempts to pretend everything is all right. Particularly effective are his scenes with the superb Paluck, in which the characters' pregnant pauses and halting communication speak volumes. Noble excels as the new spouse struggling to cope with the tension in the air, and Puette is heartbreaking as the spiritlike entity who relives happier times with her brother. Singleton hits all the correct notes in his multishaded role. Paul Dillon and Bradley Fisher add welcome comic relief as a bossy sheriff and busybody barkeeper, respectively. Montgomery rounds out the exemplary ensemble effort.

 

Scenic designer Ian Garrett, lighting designer Leigh Allen, and costume designer Stephanie Kerley-Schwartz superbly capture the play's intoxicating mix of naturalistic and surrealistic moods. This marvelous production is a feather in the cap for Rogue Machine, one of the city's newest producing companies.

 

 

AMERICAN DEAD

Reviewed by Jose Ruiz

 

The Rogue Machine has come up with a dandy of a show for their second presentation in their still evolving young life. Playwright Brett Neveu writes dialog that gives his characters a sense of hopelessness even when they try to seem positive. This story deals with death on several levels. While the apparent central theme is the murder of Deputy Sheriff Grace Tisdale and grocery clerk Mark Shawver during a holdup at the town's store, the aftermath of that shooting is having eroding effects on her brother Lewie Froah. A former house painter, he is now an alcoholic who can't get a job and frequently has visions of his dead sister and sometimes the dead clerk. He holds conversations with Grace, usually reliving some past experience and each day he sinks deeper into depression.

 

 

The characters who populate this small town somewhere in the Midwest are simple, yet colorful in their own way. Like many small towns today, this one is slowly dying. It has lost much of its industry, its jobs, and the people are moving away. Doug Tisdale is one of those leaving. He was married to Grace before she was killed. Now he has remarried and is taking his new wife away from the house and the town that holds the memories of his dead wife. Bill, the bartender in the only bar left in town, is more than friendly. Nosey is a better word, since he wants to get involved in everyone's affairs.

 

 

Bradley Fisher - Mark St. Amant - Paul Dillon

 

The Sheriff, Alan Starett, is a tough no-nonsense man who just wants to keep things quiet in town. He also is disturbed at not having found Grace's killers yet. When Dennis Rescola, a drifter, comes into the bar things begin to happen. The mysterious stranger has a secret about the death of the deputy, but there are circumstances that prevent him from disclosing the facts freely.

 

With that simple story outline, Neveu creates a gripping tale with many symbolic parallels to life as we know it now. He zeroes in on drug use (methamphetamines) as the major contributor in the decay of the town and its youth but there is a lot more going on. There is a sense of defeatism in the residents and it appears that most are just existing from day to day. Director Dado uses moody lighting to accentuate the fluid sets on the broad stage and the actors create the residents with sharp outlined characters.

 

Paul Dillon who was reviewed here a couple of years back for his sizzling Killer Joe performance where he played a cop gone bad, is given the role of a lawman again. As the Sheriff, Dillon plays it straight with a tunnel focus and gritty determination.

 

For a man with a recent bride, Doug Tisdale seems to talk a lot about his dead wife. David Paluk treads the fine line of widower and recently wed with sympathetic realism. Bradley Fisher is excellent as the bartender who always verbally spars with the Sheriff, and Darin Singleton makes Dennis, the drifter, a nervous, insecure ex-con who seems terrified at the consequences he may have to face if he reveals what he knows about the killing. Deborah Puette delivers a believable performance as the dead officer returning to converse with her brother Lewie who is having a hard time keeping it together. Mark St. Amant delivers an exceptional performance, mixing despair with anxiety, grief with anger and desperation with deep depression. He exemplifies the "dead" in the premise ­ almost a walking zombie, too afraid to die but too weak to try to make a life. Ann Noble plays new wife Lisa Tisdale and Mark was played by Daniel Montgomery.

 

As it is in much of life, this story has no real resolution. There is a glimmer that the murder will be solved ­ there is a hint that life will renew with the recently married couple ­ there is a insinuation that Lewie may try to control his drinking. But nothing is definite and the story ends with the stage going dark and lifeless ­ pretty much like the town and the characters in the story will eventually wind up.

 

The production continues through August 24, 2008 at Theatre Theater - 5041 Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019 (West of La Brea). Reservations at: (323) 960-7726.

 

American Dead

 

Five years ago, Grace Tisdale, a young Midwestern deputy sheriff and Mark Shawver, a teenage bagger, were gunned down in a grocery store robbery, precisely the kind of crime big city dwellers read about on a daily basis. To the residents of this small American town, however, it was not merely the deputy and the teenager who were victimized. Grace Tisdale left behind a husband and a brother, both of whose lives were forever changed.

 

Thus begins American Dead, a new play by Brett Neveu and the second production of Rogue Machine, one of L.A.'s most promising new theater companies. The title refers not only to the two crime victims, but to the dying town itself. The school, the bank, the gas station-they've all closed, though the doors of the local bar remain open.

 

In the years since the crime, Grace's widower has remarried, but her brother Lewie, already not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, remains traumatized by the crime and keeps reliving the robbery, visited by the imagined ghosts of Grace and Mark.

 

Now, Lewie's life is about to be changed by two unconnected events. First, Grace's husband Doug and his second wife Lisa are about to move away, and in so doing, rob Lewie of the one remaining link to his murdered sister. Secondly, a stranger from another town has begun to frequent the bar where Lewie is habitually served one drink too many, a stranger with a secret.

 

The stranger is a man named Dennis Rescola, known in these parts as the father of "that kid who wouldn't leave his house for a few days because he didn't want to go to school," that kid who "had some guns." Dennis has a reason for showing up in Bill Doane's bar, one which will rock Lewie's already unstable world.

 

Playwright Neveu has had considerable success in Chicago, where Jack Helbig of the Daily Herald wrote, "the day is probably going to come when we lose Brett Neveu, when this talented playwright lights out for greener pastures on either the East or West Coast." The talented writer is now L.A. based, and Rogue Machine is fortunate indeed to have American Dead as their sophomore effort.

 

Neveu's writing captures the Midwestern idiom, his serious subject matter spiced with dashes of wry humor. Dennis earns his living making polyethylene belts for vacuum cleaners and washing machines, but he's "sworn to secrecy" about how exactly they're made. Bill is none too happy to hear his bar described as smelling "like an ass crack." There's also a running gag about how many drinks Bill is allowed to serve Lewie under Sheriff Alan Starett's eagle eye.

 

Under the outstanding direction of Dado (that's her whole name), the entire cast of American Dead deliver sterling performances. Mark St. Amant creates a fascinatingly enigmatic Lewie, a not terribly bright man unable to exorcise the ghosts of his murdered sister and the stranger who was killed with her. Paul Dillon is brilliant as Sheriff Starett, folksy yet steely, and Darin Singleton is equally fine as mystery man Rescola. Dillon and Singleton have the play's most powerful scene, an interrogation between a fierce police officer and a troubled father who becomes a broken man before our eyes.

 

Bradley Fisher is excellent as bartender Bill, waiting in vain for "the town to get its second wind." David Paluck does compelling work as Doug, who feels bad about leaving Lewie behind but knows that this town is no longer the place for him or for his schoolteacher wife, the always striking Ann Noble. Recent LA Weekly Award-winner Deborah Puette is heartbreaking as murdered Grace, and Matthew Scott Montgomery is boyish sweetness as Mark, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

American Dead's impact is heightened by an absolutely superb design team. Scenic designer Ian Garrett fills Theatre-Theater's cavernous black box with a multilevel set which vividly depicts a town on the verge of becoming a ghost town. Leigh Allen's lighting is equally arresting, clearly differentiating between the real and the imaginary, the red traffic light suspended above the set punctuating scenes and symbolizing the go-nowhere town where American Dead is set. Bob Rokos has created an outstanding (and appropriately moody) sound design, and Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's costumes couldn't be more right for the play's characters.

 

Neveu's script does take a while to get going, and at least in this instance I would have benefited from having read the kind of introductory synopsis which begins this review. Also, the play's abrupt ending proved confusing, both to myself and to the friend who was my guest, provoking a "What?" at blackout rather than a "Wow!" Once a couple of cast members gave me their take on the ending, it all made sense, but I wish I hadn't had to ask.

 

Overall, however, American Dead is well worth seeing. It is gritty, suspenseful, and often grimly funny in both its writing and its acting, and makes one eager to see what's next for Rogue Machine.

 

Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles. Through August 24. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00. Fridays at 7:00. Reservations: (323) 960-7726 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com.

 

--Steven Stanley

July 25, 2008

 

Photos: John Flynn


Theatre/Theater has moved several times since it first opened in Hollywood almost 30 years ago, yet under the tenacious tutelage of founders Jeff Murray and Nicolette Chaffey, it remains a consistent producing entity in an era when start-up theaters flare and fade like fool's fire in the swampland.

 

The theater's 1987 production of Del Shores' "Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will?" played for two years to turn-away crowds and was subsequently made into a film. Now, the company turns back the clock in a remounting of Shores' regional comedy. The production, which features two separate casts, is a welcome reprise that reaffirms both Shores' comic talents and Theatre/Theater's durable creativity.

 

The play's current incarnation has a new wrinkle. Shores' white-trashy characters, the bickering Turnover clan of Texas, are now African American. With the exception of a few awkward references, the transition works like a charm.

 

The premise is simple. When Daddy Buford (Alex Morris) suffers a series of strokes, his offspring gather for the deathwatch. The family is evenly divided along the pure-hearted and the greedy. Among the former are chief caregiver Sara Lee (Ellana Barksdale) and her "Bible-thumping" sister Lurleen (Nancy Renee), both on the side of the angels. Not so scheming sexpot Evalita (Leslie LaRaine) and boorish only son Orville (Lee Stansberry) are solely interested in locating Daddy's missing will.

 

Rounding out the funereal festivities are feisty family matriarch Mama Wheelis (hilarious Zoe Cotton); Orville's abused wife Marlene (Pam Trotter), a worm who is about to turn; and Evalita's latest boy-toy Harmony (Brandon Breault), a pot-addled "hippie" with a surprisingly sensible streak.

 

Murray, who co-produced the original production, takes the reins as director here, with riotous results. A warning: Don't expect subtlety in this staging. The exuberant performers devour Shores' material and chew the scenery for dessert.

 

Shores has gone on to write other hits, including the terrific "Sordid Lives," based on his play, a Logo series that features some of the best character acting to be found on the small screen. However, this vibrant seminal work started it all and remains a gold-plated hoot, guaranteed to deliver a full quotient of belly laughs.

--F. Kathleen Foley LA Times *** CRITIC'S CHOICE



Daddy's Dyin'...Who's Got The Will?

 

November 26, 2008

By Les Spindle / Backstage West

This captivating comedy by award-winning playwright-screenwriter Del Shores (Southern Baptist Sissies, Sordid Lives) premiered at Theatre/Theater's original Hollywood site in 1987, where it enjoyed a two-year run. Taking an innovative slant in this revival, director Jeff Murray cast all roles except one with African-American actors. Two casts alternate. Murray's fresh approach invigorates Shores' bittersweet portrait of conflicts within a country-bumpkin Texan family.

 

The title raises apt expectations of cynical humor. Yet, as the broadly etched characters set about a-feudin', a-fightin', and a-fussin' during a reunion of siblings awaiting their widowed patriarch's imminent death, the play gradually segues to a warm-hearted portrait of familial bonds being restored. As the relatives gather in the family homestead, we learn that mentally confused Daddy Turnover (Sy Richardson in a moving portrayal) recently retrieved his will to make changes. Nobody knows where he stashed it.

 

A strong cast makes the most of the crackling dialogue and colorful roles. Baadja-Lyne is hilarious as Mama Wheelis, a take-charge dynamo still capable of intimidating the feisty adult grandchildren. As bad girl Evalita, veteran of five husbands, Taji Coleman sinks her teeth into the role, pulling off Shores' priceless bons mots with élan. Playing Harmony, the zonked-out hippie who is Evalita's current amour, white actor Matt Skaja offers a deft blend of zaniness and heart, helping to ground the loony altercations. As the greedy and oafish brother Orville, Hardia Madden Jr. tempers a potentially detestable character with grace notes of human frailty. Playing Orville's abused wife, Marlene, Pam Trotter gives a joyful portrayal of an underdog with a defiant spirit. Michele Harrell is amusing as the Bible-thumping preacher's wife coping with the unholy goings-on. Only in a Shores play could we expect to find a character named Sara Lee Turnover. Regan Carrington evokes laughs as this sassy sister, who's still living with her father. It's rewarding to observe this early example of the playwright's blend of ribald rustic humor and sadness, an individualistic style that became much richer in his subsequent seriocomic works.

 

Presented by and at Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. Nov. 20-Dec. 21. Thu. Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (323) 954-9795 or www.theatretheater.net.


Only one play to tell you about this week

and it was a winner! Loaded with life, love and lunacy!

 

 

This Southern-fried "delicious" comedy offers a "theatrical feast" for the audience and eight riotously rewarding characters for the cast to portray.A razor-sharp script in its 21st Anniversary, it was written by Del Shores and opened in Hollywood at Theatre Theater for a jam-packed 22 month run. Garnering L.A. Weekly's "Production Of The Year" award, and countless other kudos, I was there to catch it. It was a "scream" then, and it still is!

It was released as a film by MGM in 1990, featuring an all-star cast, and Shores went on to write several other "Southern Sagas" ("Sordid Lives," Southern Baptist Sissies," and "Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife" to name a few.) I loved all of them!

Effectively played this time by a largely African-American cast, this family "circus" offers countless belly laughs, while hilariously looking at family dynamics, resentments, and relationships.

Using a double cast, I hear that they are equally impressive. One cast goes up on Thursday and Friday, and the fine cast I saw performs on Saturday and Sunday.

We meet the "larger than life" Turnover family of Lowake, Texas, as a quartet of family siblings gather in their father's home. After he has suffered a stroke they have come to await his death, and to find and "claim" their share of his recently misplaced Will. As each unique personality unfolds and intermingles, old resentments are revealed and familial fireworks explode!

Director Jeff Murray is triumphantly successful in keeping the pace lively, while spotlighting each character's quirky traits, secrets, and agendas.

Such a strong cast I must comment on each member: Alex Morris as Daddy, (Buford), the dying patriarch, gives a phenomenally entertaining performance.

His short-circuited memory loss, due to the stroke, offers some of the play's finest moments! Zoe Cotton as his "sassy senior" opinionated mother, is roaringly funny!

Nancy Renee as Lurlene, the prim and proper "bible thumper," is straight-laced perfection! Regan Carrington as Sara Lee, the lonely and devoted sibling who stayed home thru the years to care for "Daddy,"

and Alisa Banks as Marlene, the "weight loss fanatic" daughter-in-law, are both heart-wrenching! As Marlene's chauvinist husband Orville, Lee Stansberry is delightfully despicable!

As Evalita, the bawdy "floozy" of the clan, with six loser hubbies behind her, Leslie LaRaine sizzles, and as Harmony, the hippie vegetarian she brings home, Brandon Breault is kooky fun!

Cool set design (Stephen Gifford), 1980's costumes (Blooie Greene), and lighting (Leigh Allen) add to the joy of it all.

So much fun the audience clapped, cheered, and stomped their feet repeatedly So, grab some of your most fun lovin' friends

and do see this one! Running through December 21st at Theatre/Theater's permanent new space ­

 

By Pat Taylor on December 01,2008

 

 

Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got The Will?

(L to R) Standing: Brandon Breault, Ellana Barksdale, Nancy Renee, Lee Stansberry Sitting: Leslie LaRaine, Zoe Cotton, Alex Morris, Alisa Banks- Presented by Nicolette Chaffey and Theatre/Theater ­

5041 W. Pico in Los Angeles.

For seats, call 323-954-9795.-



 

ART IS WAR IN BINGO WITH THE INDIANS

By Mike Buzzelli 05/18/2009

 

Theatre is a wild and dangerous place, and art is war in Adam Rapp's Bingo with the Indians. Three theatre misfits hole up in a run down motel, going over the details of their diabolical plan to steal bingo money to mount their latest production. Yes. You read that right. They plan to steal bingo money to mount a theatrical production. It's a crazy plan and Bingo is its name-o.

 

The trio of ne'er do wells include, Stash (Patrick Flanagan), a psychopathic drug user and allegedly talented actor, Dee (Melissa Paladino) the uber-dyke director, and Wilson (West Liang) a militant queer stage manager festering his own psychosis.

 

Dee hatches the plot with malevolent glee, robbing a small town bingo parlor. She is more of a dictator than director, yet her companions cater to her every whim. The biggest obstacle in her nefarious plan is her prime choice of accomplice, Stash. Stash can't keep his nose out of trouble. In addition to his chemical dependency, he has a hair trigger rage that goes off at the slightest provocation. He leaps about the hotel room like a rat in a cage, waiting for a call from an unseen associate, Dee's cousin, who will alert them to the best time to pilfer the cookie jar (Bingo slang for the container of cash).

 

Their nerves fray as they wait for the call. Enter Steve (Brian Norris), the teenage son of the hotel owners. He is enthralled with his guests from the big city. Things go horribly wrong for the young man as he immerses himself in the twisted machinations of the outrageous theatre troupe.

Before the night ends, Steve's mother, Mrs. Woods (Ann Bronston), a hippy-dippy lesbian, Jackson (Corryn Cummins), and a mysterious Native American visitor (Ron Joseph) get in on the act, literally and figuratively.

Rapp's edgy and avant garde story is perfectly suited for Rogue Machine's late night alternative series, Off the Clock (the play goes on at 10:30 pm on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sundays at 4:00 pm). It's not for kids; violence, sexual situations and strong language are all on the bingo board.

There are a few plotlines battling for attention, but director Andrew Block keeps all the balls in the air. The acting is exceptional.

Flanagan inhabits his character with intensity, a bold mix of raw emotions. It would easy to make Stash a pitiable buffoon or enraged egomaniac, but Flanagan balances on the high wire.

Bronston's befuddled Mrs. Woods is a delight. She is a sad creature, but she garners some of the best laughs of the night. Mrs. Woods is awkward and obtuse. She catches her son in a carnal act, but easily falls for a flimsy explanation. The subtext of knowledge creeps in, but she swats it away as if it were a pesky fly.

Wilson sneaks up on the unsuspecting audience. He seems to be the most grounded of the characters, until his own idiosyncrasies surface. Wilson is a charming sociopath, deftly played by Liang.

Norris's Steve is a treat, tentatively dipping his toe into deep and troubled waters. He plays the innocent youth with a self-assured enthusiasm. Steve is a youth waiting for the loss of his innocence, but forever changed by his own dark desires. Norris's resemblance to Ron Howard's Ritchie Cunningham makes his plight even more profane.

The play seems shocking for the sake of being shocking, but there is an underlying theme: Artists must make art. Their lives depend on it. It may cause them to make foolish choices, hook up with the wrong crowds, or bring them to a painful demise, but there is a passion that cannot be denied. Sometimes you have to be bold, no matter what the consequences.

Be bold. Take a late night ride down Pico and take a chance on Bingo with the Indians.

 

- Mike Buzzelli

 

Bingo with the Indians runs from May 15 to June 7 at Theatre/Theater, 5041 West Pico, Los Angeles, CA 90019)


2010

 

Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams

LA TIMES CRITICS CHOICE reviewed by David C Nichols

The matchless dramatic poetry of Tennessee Williams elevates "Orpheus Descending," which gets its sprawling due at Theatre/Theater. This dark 1957 riff on the Orpheus myth receives a spare, evocative rendition by documentary filmmaker Lou Pepe, his capable company brilliantly spearheaded by Gale Harold and Denise Crosby as the tragic central pair.

Although Harold Clurman's Broadway staging -- revised by Williams from his 1940 "Battle of Angels" -- failed, "Orpheus" is pivotal in the canon. Problematic yet arresting, this saga of a charismatic, guitar-wielding drifter who enters the small-town Hades of an unhappily married, Sicilian-descended storekeeper hovers directly between the playwright's triumphs and misfires.

Debuting stage director Pepe eschews literalism on designer David Mauer's skeletal set. After a masked ritual by Curtis C's Conjure Man sets the archetypal tone, a faux Greek chorus of town gossips (Kelly Ebsary and Sheila Shaw) drolly launches the expository stakes.

In the company of degraded aristocrat Carol Cutrere (the wonderful Claudia Mason), we enter vintage Williams territory, made all the more atmospheric by Brandon Baruch's superb lighting and cast member Robert E. Beckwith's blues-guitar accompaniment.

And when Harold appears as snakeskin-jacketed Val Xavier, followed by Crosby's rigid Lady Torrance, "Orpheus" descends into riveting realms entirely its own. The estimable ensemble, many playing multiple roles, includes ever-reliable Francesca Casale as the sheriff's visionary wife and Geoffrey Wade as Lady's dying, tyrannical husband. Still, all revolves around the Orpheus and Eurydice. Harold, ideally cast, beautifully ignites with Crosby, whose unconventional interpretation is an affecting revelation.

The three-act length may tax modern tastes, although Pepe's pace hardly drags, and the racism and Southern gothic violence remain overt. "We're all sentenced to solitary confinement for life" is Williams' keynote here. It drives this resourceful revival.

-- David C. Nichols

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"Orpheus Descending," Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. $25. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 21. $25. (800) 838-3006 or

|

January 22, 2010

 

Orpheus Descending

Frantic Redhead Productions at Theatre/Theater

 

BACKSTAGE WEST: Reviewed by Les Spindle

Though this 1957 Gothic soap opera isn't generally named among the top tier of Tennessee Williams' works, it offers a tantalizing mix of soaring lyricism, religious symbolism, and guilty-pleasure theatrics. It's a testosterone-charged retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the form of a tragicomedy set in a small Southern town. Director Lou Pepe's rendition offers a generally solid realization of the play's virtues. Ironic humor and moments of pathos are deftly dovetailed as the production works its way to a chilling conclusion.

The juicy lead role of troubled shop owner Lady Torrance, whose spirit is in urgent need of salvation, is played by Denise Crosby, who does a fine job of conveying Lady's suppressed frustrations that ultimately lead to desperate acts. The hope for Lady's emotional survival arrives unexpectedly, in the form of guitar-strumming drifter Val Xavier (Gale Harold), the sexy and sultry young man she hires as a shop assistant. Appropriately, the tension in the play escalates with the arrival of Val, thanks to Harold's perfect mix of smoldering sensuality and vulnerability. This is the type of role one easily associates with an actor like James Dean or Marlon Brando (who played it in the film adaptation, "The Fugitive Kind"). Harold's interpretation is a bit softer than expected, but it works well. He tempers the angry-young-man character with great sensitivity, making the tragic climax all the more affecting. The chemistry between Crosby's menopausal misfit and Harold's wayward boy-toy is the production's strongest suit.

The finest work by the supporting players includes Geoffrey Wade's chilling performance as Lady's vile husband, Jabe, who is physically incapacitated but still up to despicable deeds; Francesca Casale in multiple roles; Curtis C. as a bizarre vagrant; Andy Forrest as the ruthless sheriff; and Claudia Mason as a bedraggled local waif. As two local biddies addicted to gossip, Kelly Ebsary and Sheila Shaw are saddled with stereotypical Williams roles; through no fault of the actors, these two characters add little to the proceedings. Design elements are satisfactory.

 

Presented by Frantic Redhead Productions at Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. Jan. 15­Feb. 21. Thu.­Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (800) 838-3006. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/92508.

 

STAGE HAPPENINGS.COM

Orpheus Descending

by Dale Reynolds

"Orpheus Descending," Tennessee Williams' 1957 reworking of his 1940 "Battle of Angels" didn't solve the problems of the first play and wasn't well-received. His tale of a rootless young man who stops off in a deeply hostile Southern American city and how he upsets the equilibrium of the town-folk, especially with the lives of three of the women of the town. Valentine Xavier is one of Williams' unattainable male fantasies and, as is true of Chance Wayne in "Sweet Bird of Youth," Brick in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and Stanley in "Streetcar Named Desire," Val is a flashing red-hot beacon to woman and a definite threat to their screwed-up husbands.

The first Williams to hit L.A. this year is a fine production of a very problematic play at Theatre/Theater, directed by Lou Pepe. All of Williams' prototypes are on display: the neurotic and willful rich-girl, Carol Cutrere (Claudia Mason); the lonely and sexually-frustrated outsider/wife, Lady Torrance (Denise Crosby) and the mad-as-a-hatter local artist, Vee Talbot (Francesca Casale), all of whom are influenced in a major way by this drifter, Val (Gale Harold). As usual in these souped-up melodramas of his, sexuality and violence are never far from the surface.

Williams meant this to be a modern retelling of the ancient Greek Orpheus legend: the inability to "not look back," amid artistic expression and how it automatically conveys outsider status to any citizen in a society that values traditional norms, especially those that keep white heterosexual men in power. Guitar-playing Val influences Lady to open her confectionary counter in their general dry-goods business, as well as allowing Vee her right to display her abstract art, and for beautiful Carol to challenge her horrified family by sticking around, instead of accepting a paid exile.

In keeping with the times he wrote in, there can be no easy or satisfactory ending for these characters. The prevailing era of Eisenhower-conformity meant women, blacks, and those of other-than WASP roots must be subsumed to the dominant culture. Williams, as a gay man, certainly didn't fit into the dominant culture of the time and, although he didn't suffer the violence his characters so often do, he suffered enough. Hence, the suffering most of his outsider-characters as well.

In his lesser-plays, of which this is one, all this sturm-und-drang doesn't hold up very well fifty years on. Perhaps in another fifty years, he will be seen as a prophet and lauded for his neurotic's realities once again.

Director Lou Pepe understands these limitations and with set-designer David Mauer, makes good use of the small 99-seat space of Theatre/Theater, although the over-all look is pretty ugly. He has also cast it well, with Harold, Crosby and Mason making the most of the range of emotions they're given. They play all the intended sexual tensions and the supporting cast of townsfolk, hypocritical and vicious as Williams believed them to be, are well played by Kelly Ebsary, Sheila Shaw, John Gleeson Connolly and Robert E. Beckwith, along with Geoffrey Wade as Lady's dying husband and Andy Forrest as the bigoted sheriff.

And while this is lesser-Tennessee Williams, it is still worth noting. You just wish it didn't seem all so drearily stereotypical of a time and place in our recent American history.

 

SIGNAL TRIBUNE

January 22nd, 2010

 

L.A.'s Theatre/Theater explores universal themes of rarely produced Williams play

By Cory Bilicko. Entertainment Writer

Watching Theatre/Theater's current production of Orpheus Descending, it's difficult to imagine just why the Tennessee Williams play got such an unwelcome reception when it hit Broadway in 1957­ especially considering it was a sixth-generation rewrite to which the Southern playwright had devoted 17 years. Based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, it is as poignant now as that myth presumably had been in ancient Greece.

Although Orpheus Descending's themes are timeless, perhaps 1950s America wasn't ready to embrace its dark truths about human nature. In today's art world, we seek to uncover what life lurks beneath the masks of our daily lives­ what secrets a plain woman who runs a dry-goods store may be hiding deep inside.

In the play, a young, charismatic guitar-player named Val (Gale Harold of Queer as Folk) arrives in a small, repressive Southern town, where he develops a relationship with Lady (Denise Crosby of Star Trek: The Next Generation), an older woman whose bad marriage is linked to her tragic past. Val reawakens life in her, both figuratively and literally. In Val, she sees an opportunity to escape from her dreary, loveless life, but the townspeople, complete with gossips and Klan members, are determined to stifle the passions and creative expressions of any non-conformists and banish those who refuse to yield.

Val's arrival into town is that of a stranger to this world, much like Orpheus when he descends into Hades to resurrect Eurydice, but, just as the Greek myths were of their time, this is a cautionary tale of our own time; even though society has come a long way from an enslaved South, we still have to travel a long way before we're truly free. It is that search for freedom in its purest form that is a theme throughout the play­ a complex, bittersweet work that is at all times attuned to how man's destiny is shaped by society. Indeed, it is the epitome of a literary work whose type of conflict is that of "man versus society."

As the mysterious drifter, Harold is a charmer in his snakeskin jacket and buttoned-down button-down, especially when he begins to strum and croon; with a honey-dripped voice and heartfelt singing, he mesmerizes the audience as he seduces Lady. (His short-but-sweet musical numbers are the highlights of the production.) Crosby, in her sensible mid-century dresses and usual short-cropped blonde bob, is grounded and relatable in her role as the store's purveyor. Her transformation from the homely, practical, embittered wife into a sexually reawakened woman is subtle and utterly believable, and her performance seems well informed by the heartrending back-story Williams created for her character. Model-turned-actress Claudia Mason brings a nuanced and delicate turn as Carol Cutrere, who the county has made into a pariah for her promiscuous lifestyle (although we all know it's really because of her civil-rights activism). Tall and svelte with dark locks of long hair, Mason is like a frail Vampira of the South whose determined strength of character is no match for the oppressive society in which she exists.

In addition to the ideas of freedom and societal conformity is the theme of corruption, about which the play asks as much as it explains. What is corruption, and who is corrupt? Is it the wife who seeks redemption through adultery? Or the faithful dying husband who keeps his county clean of "sinners?" The nurse who nurtures the life of a murderer? And who is pure? The town's women who steer clear of sin (if gossip isn't a sin) and ostracize flirtatious, flashy women? Or the musician traveling through who cleanses his own corrupt soul through music?

Theater Theater's production of Orpheus Descending may not answer these questions in a way any more comforting than the way it asks them, but its cast performs beautifully. If art does purify, as Val suggests, then the souls of these actors are washed clean.

Orpheus Descending continues at Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles through Feb. 21. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm.

 

STAGE SCENE LA

 

 

 

January 17, 2010

WOW!

ORPHEUS DESCENDING

A big-name trio of leading players with serious theatrical credits and training, a gifted director with an inspired concept, and one of the finest design teams in town have combined forces to make one of Tennessee Williams' lesser known dramas not only a surefire hit but the first major artistic success of 2010 as well. Gale Harold gives a masterful performance as sexy drifter Val. Denise Crosby does deeply-felt work as the emotionally wounded Lady. Claudia Mason gives a moving portrayal of lost soul/misfit Carol. Efrain Schunior's live sound design will be talked about almost as much as the production as a whole. In the talented hands of its cast, director Lou Pepe, and designers, Orpheus Descending is proof positive that the "waiver" theater can achieve world-class levels of excellence. This is Los Angeles theater at its finest.

Frantic Redhead Productions' presentation of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending is a prime example of Los Angeles theater at its finest. A big-name trio of leading players with serious theatrical credits and training, a gifted director with an inspired concept, and one of the finest design teams in town have combined forces to make one of Williams' lesser known dramas not only a surefire hit but the first major artistic success of 2010 as well.

We know we're in Tennessee Williams territory from the get-go, a pair of local biddies gossiping about the return home of cancer-ridden town bigwig Jabe Torrance from a futile hospital stay (shades of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof). Jabe's younger wife Lady, well-known to have been "bought" by Jabe as an eighteen-year-old bride, is now approaching middle age, her heart dried up from years spent in a loveless marriage. Free-spirited local beauty Carol Cutrere's outlandish behavior has made her the town pariah. Vee Talbott, the sheriff's wife, paints visionary Bible-related canvases, and has a problem with occasional bouts of sudden blindness.

Into this smoldering, sweaty caldron of a Southern town arrives sexy snakeskin-clad drifter Val Xavier, guitar in hand and ready to set the ladies' hearts (and Lady's heart) aflame and, like Orpheus, attempt to rescue Lady from her Southern Hades.

Naturally, fireworks ensue, as well as hatred, jealousy, and a murder or two.

Helming this rare revival of Williams' relatively obscure 1957 Broadway play is award-winning film director Lou Pepe, obviously relishing this opportunity to create something theatrical as opposed to cinematic. Rather than being hampered by the limitations of on-a-budget 99-seat theater, Pepe uses this challenge as a basis for inspiration. He takes Williams' stage direction that Orpheus Descending's set should be "non-realistic" and extends it to the entire production, most notably its sound design. Nothing is prerecorded. Everything from its musical underscoring to the sounds of thunder, a calliope, dogs barking, a car horn, etc., happens live, accomplished actor/guitarist Robert E. Beckwith strumming appropriately moody tunes throughout, while fellow cast members serve as offstage foley artists. This is the first time I can ever recall this being done, and the effect is not just unique but frequently quite breathtaking.

Pepe goes back to Orpheus Descending's mythical roots to stage Val, Lady, and Carol's story as an ancient Greek tragedy. Lights come up on ensemble members wearing stylized masks. An African American "Conjure Man" takes their masks from them one by one, handing them in exchange items of clothing that transform them into the characters they will be portraying.

As for its cast, Orpheus Descending proves once again that for A-List talent, Los Angeles can't be beat. Gale Harold's lead performance as Val is likely to bring out Queer As Folk fans in droves wanting to see "Brian Kinney" up close and personal. They will be treated to a masterful performance about as dissimilar to Brian as night is to day, except for the magnetic presence Harold brings to the role. Star Trek: The Next Generation fans too will be coming from far and near to see "Tasha Yar" on stage in the person of Denise Crosby. The Ovation Award-nominated actress does brilliant, deeply-felt work as the emotionally wounded Lady, brought back to life by the mysterious stranger she hires to work in the dry goods store owned by her aged, dying husband. Covergirl-turned-actress Claudia Mason proves that beauty and acting chops can indeed go hand in hand with her moving portrayal of lost soul/misfit Carol, the favorite topic of conversation of small town gossips Dolly and Beulah.

Supporting actors are equally fine, most of them in multiple roles. The ever splendid Francesca Casale creates two very different portraits, her imperious nurse a dramatic contrast to the spacey Christ-obsessed Vee. Andy Forrest is excellent as Sheriff Talbot, and the same can be said for both Beckwith and John Gleeson Connolly in a number of roles. Standouts Kelly Ebsary and Sheila Shaw are a hoot as gossipy, judgmental Dolly and Beulah (though I must confess to not having realized that at times they were playing characters named Eva and Sister Temple). There was no confusion whatsoever, though, between Geoffrey Wade's evil, death-warmed-over Jabe and still-virile David Cutrere. Curtis C vanishes into the spooky voodoo skin of Uncle Pleasant, aka "Conjure Man."

David Mauer's scenic design suggests the play's dry goods store & "confectionary" setting in a non-literal way that Williams himself would surely have approved. Brandon Baruch's lighting has a heightened theatrical quality entirely suiting Williams' text and Mauer's set design concept. Efrain Schunior's sound design is, as previously mentioned, in a class by itself, and will be talked about almost as much as the production as a whole. Jane Anderson has costumed the cast to perfection, from Val's snakeskin jacket to Carol's beat generation black to Lady's drab housedress and the slinky purple number she dons once her withered sexual flower has bloomed again.

Orpheus Descending's script may not be at the level of Williams' top three (The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof), but even "second-rate" Williams is more interesting than "first rate" [insert name of playwright]. In the talented hands of its cast, director, and designers, Orpheus Descending is proof positive that the "waiver" theater, unique to our city, can achieve world-class levels of excellence.

Theatre/Theater, 5041 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles. Through February 21. Thursdays, Firdays, and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 2:00. Reservations: 800 838-3006 www.BrownPaperTickets.com/event/92508

 

--Steven Stanley