Friday, May 30, 2008

What's the Trick In That?

Huzzahs to Jeffrey Hatcher's new play "Compleat Female Stage Beauty" about the real-life Edward Kynaston who, in the 1600s, was the leading actor who played female roles on the London stage (at a time when it was illegal for women to perform).

When Restoration-minded King Charles II declares only females shall play female roles, Kynaston finds himself professionally obsolete -- with revenge on his mind.

The large cast gives it their all in this fun show. And Shakespeare fans will enjoy the multi-reenactments of Desdemona's death scene from "Othello."

I had a particular affinity for the narrator, Mr. Pepys, a theater fan who writes obsessively about whatever show he sees with great glee in his "diary."

Celebrity Sighting: Spotted a hale and hearty Orson Bean in the audience Thursday night.
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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Out There

Went to the Egyptian Theater last night on Hollywood Boulevard to see a screening of outlaw French writer Jean Genet's sole movie directorial effort, "Un Chant d'Amour."

Made in 1950, it's a black and white, silent movie about life in prison. Banned in France, it was confiscated by the police when it was shown in New York City and San Francisco.

But now we're free to see what all the fuss was about. Following the 25 minute movie, a 1981 interview with Genet was shown. In it Genet details his unconventional views on jail such as some people "want" to go to jail and the threat of going to jail is only a crime deterrent for individuals who have not been to jail -- in other words, once you've been to jail the threat of being sent back is no big deal.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Of Mice, Old Men & Women, Snakes, Monkeys and Red Ants

Like millions of other red-blooded, movie-going Americans I went to see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" over the holiday weekend.

It's a perfectly fun summer flick (even if the "crystal skull" is cheesy). Harrison Ford acquits himself of being "too old" for the role. He remains the perfect Indy. And how great is it to see Karen Allen back in a movie!
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"Young @ Heart" is a great documentary about a Northampton, Massachusetts choir made up of seniors in their 70s, 80s and 90s. But unlike what you might expect instead of performing standards or songs from their youth, this choir performs hard rock and punk songs from groups like Talking Heads and songs like "Schizophrenia" from Sonic Youth.

It's great fun to watch them wrap their brains around new songs they aren't familiar with and, of course, it's lovely to see how participating in the choir becomes such an important part of their longevity.

And even when choir members die days before their concerts the show must go on.
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The Pasadena Playhouse is currently presenting a production of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."

In order to make the classic play more current, I suppose, this production portrays George and Lennie as Mexican immigrants who are part of the Bracero program.

Unfortunately, I thought this version was pretty flat and simply inserting a few phrases in Spanish hardly represents a "re-thinking"
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

So Shoot Me

I just don't "get" David Mamet. I don't think his writing is funny. I don't think it's interesting. I don't think it's informative or moving. I know I'm supposed to, but I don't.

The Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City is presenting "Two Unrelated Plays," two one-act plays by Mamet. This program replaces the twice-postponed "A Waitress in Yellowstone" by Mamet.

The first play, "Duck Variations," written in 1971 features two old guys sitting on a park bench talking about ducks. Somehow their discussion about the struggle between ducks and the blue heron is supposed to shine a light on the great issues in life.

It's great to get to see Harold Gould on stage but, I'm sorry, that's an hour of my life I'll never have back.

The second play, written in 2008, is called "Keep Your Pantheon." Bad news: The title is as good as it gets. This moronic play is about a group of bad actors in ancient Rome who just can't catch a break. I'm thinking their problem isn't their acting ability, it's their choice of playwright!
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Erik Patterson has written a touching play, "He Asked For It" about the search for love with "a real person" in Los Angeles. As one character asks, "you moved to Los Angeles to meet real people?"

I enjoyed this show at the Theater of Note at Sunset and Cahuenga on a rainy Friday night.

What's up with rain in L.A. on Memorial Day Weekend? That's only supposed to happen when I lived in Washington, DC and went to Rehobeth Beach.
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One critic described Alan Mandell's turn in "Trying" at the Colony Theater as "one of the five greatest performances you'll see in your lifetime." I have to think about my list of great performances, but I agree Mandell's is right up there.

"Trying" is based on playwright Joanna McClelland Glass' experience as Francis Biddle's secretary in the last year of his life. Biddle was FDR's Attorney General from 1941 to 1945 and in 1946 President Truman appointed him to be Chief American Judge of the International Military Tribunal at the Nuremberg Trials.

Set in 1967, an 82-year old Biddle hires a young secretary to work in his office over his garage. Recognizing his life was coming to an end, Biddle acknowledges that he exists between "lucidity and senility."

A proud man -- a "Main Line Philadelphia" Biddle whose family came to the colonies from England in 1681-- Biddle is set in his ways, set in his routines and horrified by the split infinitive.

His young secretary struggles to be of assistance and is determined not to run away with her tail between her legs, either.

Mandell brings to life a man that you can adore as a person while hate what they are saying at the same time.
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Los Angeles Magazine lists Billy's in Glendale as one of the 10 best delis in Los Angeles.

They also wrote, "Evelyn 'Evy' Rondino (photo above) could have the best deli-waitress shtick in LA. She delivers asides, performs double takes, and brushes off orders as wrong."

I'm working my way through the list and when I stopped by on Thursday I was thrilled to have Evy as my waitress.

(She hurt her arm tripping over her dog. "He's blind in one eye and couldn't see me coming from the side. Good news: the dog is OK."

Yes, the food is great but it's all about Evy as far as I'm concerned.

She's even good at telling ribald jokes like, "Why do Jewish men get circumcised? Because Jewish women won't touch anything that's not 20% off."

When I asked to take her picture she fretted that she doesn't look good on camera. After I showed her the result she said, "there I am, an old Jewish a sling."
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Summertime Thrills

"Ironman" is as perfect a summer action movie as I've seen in a long, long time. As I was thrilled to see it in the gigantic Cineramadome -- which is a great place to see big summer pictures.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays a soulless, ultra-rich, ridiculously cool arms merchant who ultimately witnesses the devastation caused by his "product" and regains his soul by building a wonder suit of metal and taking out the bad guys. (Well, actually he doesn't take out ALL the bad guys. That's what sequels are for.)

The special effects really impress and director Jon Favreau's hip style really comes through on the screen.

No wonder this flick has been such a big hit.
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Over the past few months I've seen the trailer for "The Visitor" more than any other movie.

I knew that I wanted to see it -- I really like it's star, Richard Jenkins, who played the dead father on "Six Feet Under." My only concern was the trailer seemed to show the entire movie and left little of the story unknown.

So when I went on Tuesday night I was pleased by a nice surprise right from the get go (which I'm about to spoil for you) and that is Marian Seldes' cameo as a matter-of-fact piano teacher.

And it turns out I guessed the wrong ending based on the trailer (but I'm not going to spoil that).

Jenkins plays a college professor completely coasting through life following the death of his wife. A professor in Connecticut he returns to his rarely used New York City apartment to find two immigrants living in it.

An unlikely friendship develops and seeing life through their eyes -- and feeling emotions through their music -- Jenkins' character learns to live again.

It's as beautiful and touching a movie as the preview leads one to believe.
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Monday, May 19, 2008

Return to Civilization

Made my way from the low desert back to the big city Sunday afternoon.

Maybe it was the lack of air conditioning that caused the extinction of dinosaurs.
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Saturday, May 17, 2008

News Flash: It's Hot In The Desert

A long time ago I decided to attend a friend's pool party this weekend in Palm Springs. I knew it would be hot, but I hadn't been banking on 109 degrees.

So I guess I really am Sweatin' to the Oldies.
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Friday, May 16, 2008

Grab That Bull By The Horns

"The Nothing Boys," written by and starring Greg Siff is a delightful show about a struggling actor in Hollywood who returns to Nassau County, New York for his ten year high school reunion to find only one other alum in attendance along with their old Guidance Counselor, "call me Marty."

Inspired by a real incident, Siff explores young adults on the cusp of aging (and hair loss), ambition, competition, dreams, friendships, pride, awkwardness and male bonding.

It was Rick Sparks taking the helm as Director that attracted me to this show. I've always enjoyed his previous work including "Down South" ("Hello Ma, Sue Stevens here") and "Highballs, Ahoy!" starring the inimitable Les Stevens (who lives on as a magnet on my refrigerator).

I went to my 10 year high school reunion (many moons ago) and this play brought back so many emotions of that night.
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Cheers to Peanut

Laughter and heartfelt emotion filled the Renberg Theater Thursday night as pint-sized Leslie Jordan performed his one man autobiographical show.

Jordan told stories about his amazing adventures in Hollywood ever since he stepped off the bus at "Vine and De Longpre" in 1982 and realized the Southern California sky was as big as his ambition.

From buying underpants for Beverly D'Angelo to talking about Tennessee Williams with Faye Dunaway, Jordan's anecdotes had them rolling in the aisle.

The show turned serious (in between the laughs) when Jordan talked about his sobriety and efforts to deal with self-loathing.

Jordan has a book coming out next month and is currently touring the country with his show promoting it.

Now if a tailor would just shorten his shirt sleeves a little bit....
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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mid-Week Report

Went to the Matrix Theater on Melrose Wednesday night to see their World Premiere Production of Gene Franklin Smith's "Boise, USA."

I think you're going to be hearing a lot about this brilliant play about the real-life morals witch hunt that happened in Idaho in 1955 and 1956.

It's horrifying to learn how lives were ruined by innuendo and prejudice. This highly emotional show is well written and the actors in this production really bring to life the raw feelings their characters must have experienced.

And considering that Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig was an impressionable Idaho teenager when it all happened makes what happened to him recently all the more poignant.
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Small theaters in Los Angeles show up in the strangest places. For instance, the Hollywood Fight Club Theater is located next to a Tattoo Parlour in a two story strip mall at the corner of Sunset and Highland.

I went there Tuesday night to see their production of Tony Kushner's "The Illusion."

Unfortunately, the acting was pretty amateurish and Kushner's script about the ephemeral nature of love was incomprehensible. Kushner's writing is normally dense, but usually a few themes or ideas emerge. Not in this show. It was just words, words, words to me.

During intermission I wandered into the Tattoo Parlour and checked out their big board of potential tattoos. I tried to imagine myself with a giant, colorful tattoo on my arm. Couldn't decide whether to go with the skeleton holding a giant beer or the crazy dog on a motorcycle. Fortunately the lights in the theater flickered and it was time to go back in for Act Two.
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Monday night I went to see a remake of the old Vincent Price movie based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The House of Usher." It's a good premise for a horror movie -- a house that's alive and evil.

The problem with this remake is that it was filmed at Chateau Bradbury (, a lovely home that hardly looks like it needs "blood" for sustenance.

Instead of being afraid of the house I found myself watching for decorating tips.

I remain interested in anything regarding Edgar Allan Poe. You see, we share a birthday. Same thing with Jean Stapleton and Dolly Parton.
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Monday, May 12, 2008

We Need a Fourth Wall

Sunday night was one of the strangest nights in a theater I've had in a long time.

I went to see a funny show called "Point Break Live." Perhaps you remember the terrible surfer/bank-robber/Keanu Reeves moved entitled "Point Break." Perhaps you don't.

This show reenacts the movie with a great gimmick -- they take someone out of the audience to play the Keanu Reeves role, reading off cue-cards held by an ever-present Production Assistant.

The cast has a great time with their over-the-top scenery chewing. But the action doesn't just stay on the stage. They take the idea of "audience interaction" to the extreme -- blasting the audience with super-soakers, water balloons and fake blood. (That's why they sell ponchos for a dollar at the door.)

I liked it when the obnoxious guy next to me got pushed to the ground (twice) during the bank robbery scenes. But I felt sorry for the woman sitting on the other side of me who got pulled up on stage only to have (surprise) fake blood spat in her face. She took it like a good sport but when she returned to her seat her eye make-up was running so bad all I could think of was Jan Hooks doing Tammy Faye Baker crying on SNL.
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"Point Break Live" runs at Charlie O's, a skanky bar at the Alexandria Hotel at Fifth and Spring Streets, a part of downtown still awaiting it's rejuvenation.
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They built a stage in the middle of the bar complete with a curtain hanging on ropes. It reminded me of the time Director Harold Heckubah visited Gilligan's Island and the castaways put on a show for him. "Hamlet," as I recall.
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Near the end of the show the civilian from the audience playing the Keanu Reeves role (left) was hoisted in the air to simulate jumping out of an airplane, along with other members of the cast.
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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Going to the Dogs

Went to the Freud Playhouse at UCLA last night to see the Reprise Theatre Company's production of Kander and Ebb's "Flora the Red Menace." (This is the musical that garnered a 19 year-old Liza Minelli her first Tony Award.)

It's not a very strong show and certainly before Kander and Ebb hit their peak form. The cast is lead by Eden Espinosa (who recently played Elphaba in the Hollywood sit-down production of "Wicked" and Manoel Felciano (who was nominated for a Tony in 2006 for his portrayal of Tobias Ragg in "Sweeney Todd") and they each do a fine job. But Katherine Von Till ( steals the show with her comic performance as Elsa, the communist uber-organizer.

The lady in the photo above has season tickets on the same night that I do. Whenever I go to Reprise on my scheduled night I always see her, and her dog, sitting two rows in front of me. And last night a lady sitting behind me also had a dog in her lap during the show. What's up with that?

I suppose they could be service dogs. I wonder what sort of service they provide? Maybe they're trained to detect a really bad musical and in the case of one they drag their owner out of the theater by the sleeve.

The dog in front of me, despite having a front row lap, kept staring back at me during the Second Act. Always up for a challenge, I stared back. Perfect -- go to the theater to see a show and end-up in a stare down contest with a teacup poodle.
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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Upson Downs

Went to the Write Act Repretory Theater in Hollywood Friday night to see the dreadful "Biking with Andrew Scott."

Poorly written, this show follows three characters as they move through the five stages of grief following the death of a character who remains on stage throughout "talking" to his best friend, lover and mother.

Thinking the show was finally over the audience applauded, with relief, after "depression." But, no, we had one more scene to go. And when it was over the gun-shy audience didn't start applauding until the actors came out on stage to take their bows.
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Thursday night I went to Glendale to see A Noise Within's production of Tennessee Williams' "The Night of the Iguana."

What a great play! No one can create characters on the verge of a complete breakdown like Williams. In this case it's a defrocked priest reduced to taking Texas Baptist church-ladies on bus tours of Mexico. Unfortunately, his compulsion to bed the youngest lady on the tour (in this case a 16 year-old) isn't well received by the other tour members.

This small theater company -- housed in the gigantic Masonic Temple -- does an impressive job mounting this sultry play.
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