With his full, finely trimmed beard and unknotted bow tie, Phil van Hest looks like the best man at a wedding of ichthyologists. He knows he looks smart and works to discredit himself first in an opening story about himself, a beer, a joint and a bra slingshot; and second, by telling us the reason he’s certain he’s dumb: the Internet. At age 31, he’s of the perfect age to grasp Life 2.0’s impact — he’s old enough to remember memorizing phone numbers and young enough to feel pressured to keep up with 4-chan memes. “I do not laugh out loud as often as I claim to,” he intones in a Hamlet pose, and to make his case that outsourcing our minds to Google will drive us all mad, he draws upon rhesus monkeys, Vietnam tortures and Theseus. Directed by David Fofi, van Hest delivers his sermon like a first-rate street preacher — he knows when to let his doomsaying loom over our heads and when to pop the tension with a joke. A leap to Alan Greenspan and his school of evil fools allows van Hest to glom his case to the idea that the entire modern world’s gone to rubbish. In his epilogue, he announces his plan to launch a commune in the Bay Area — and by then, we’re swayed to come with.
Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category
Eighty years after her death, Mother Jones’ howl for safe mines and responsible corporations still echoes. Therese Diekhans’ hell-raising one-woman show captures the lioness shaming a field of miners about needing an 83-year-old woman to fight their fight (in fairness, she lied about her age). Playwright David Christie isn’t interested in biography; this is a snapshot of a firebrand and the climate that forged her, and under Carol Roscoe’s direction, the actress shifts wonderfully between 15 characters, including a grandstanding John D. Rockefeller Jr., who pontificates to workers that if they can’t afford to feed their families, “Your children should not have been born.”
Here be four clowns — Sad Clown (Alexis Jones), Angry Clown (Kevin Klein), Nervous Clown (Amir Levi), and Mischievous Clown (Quincy Newton) — and as an announcer intones, they’ve lived, died and resurrected, never changing, since “Before the earth trespassed across the sky.” Odd, then, that creator Jeremy Aluma then shows us the terrestrial agonies that shaped them: bad moms, torturing older brothers, horny school teachers. It’s clown catharsis as each directs the rest to re-enact their childhood, adolescence, adulthood and death in scenes that are skilled and true. Aluma may be saying that human pain is at once particular and universal; what’s certain is his cast is gifted, including musical director Ellen Warkentine as the one woman orchestra in the wings.
No writer is credited for Magnum Opus Theatre, and it’s for his or her own protection. Every week, the ensemble mines one of L.A’.s richest natural resources — terrible unsolicited screenplays — and gives the unknown author’s words a sweet, brief life. And they use every word. When the description calls for “a beat,” the cast beat-boxes “oonce-oonce-oonce.” As host Thurston Eberhard Hillsboro Smythe (Brandon Clark) vows, “We didn’t change a thing.” Yes Virginia, someone sincerely wrote Surf Dogs Unite!, a bitchin’, brawlin’ morality play about a debauched biker (Troy Vincent) and a bible-toting sand dune disciple (Eric C. Johnson), who wrassle for the souls of promiscuous surfer Dan (Michael Lanahan) and friends Swave (Victor Issac) and Little Rad (Colin Wilkie). “To surf, or not to surf? Intense question,” opines Dan, but Jonas Oppenheim’s direction suffers no lack of purpose. Crisp and assured, it’s so funny, the proselytizing writer might be tempted to take a bow. But judging by a few loud audience members who hissed whenever Joshua flogged John 3:16, maybe not.
Better to die a man than be born a woman — even a princess. Inspired by a Mark Twain short story about a girl raised as a boy in order to claim the crown, Jan O’Connor’s brisk comedy embraces the sexism of its setting to great effect. Manhood means never apologizing, commands the Duke of Lesser Flugel (Warren Davis) to his daughter Basil (Riley Rose Critchlow), as he stuffs socks down her trousers. But if men are rocks, women are water, appearing to yield to their betters while impressing their will through patience and subtlety. When Basil is sent to his uncle King Heimlich’s (Ross Gottstein) court as the rightful male heir, s/he’s smashed by the wiles of the very femme Princess Clotilda (Whitton Frank), who with her nimbus of red curls is as ripe and soft as a tomato. The cast and casting are spot-on, as is Richard Tatum’s direction which allows us to peek at the layers underneath this superficially simple society. In less detailed hands, it’d simply be a funny, feminist trifle, but while Tatum plays up the humor, he also grasps the pathos in a tomboy forced to shun her own biology and to see her mother (Adriana Bate) as a cowed creature she deigns to visit every six years.
Solo performer Heather Woodbury creates elaborate worlds. For her performance, What Ever, Woodbury elasticized herself into 100 characters for a sprawling American epic. This follow-up is a semi-political soap opera that will run a new installment every weekend for three months, and, gauging by its launch, Woodbury’s interested in charting the rise and fall of the artistic class and the crystallization of the divide between the two Americas. On the 4th of July 1985, a cowed girl picks up a video camera and discovers she’s an artist; 25 years later, she’s dead and her brother is attempting to describe her archive of tapes to a barbecue of gentrified Californian creatives who deign to do their own sculpting rather than hiring interns for the “dirty” work. On the other coast, a preacher, his shrewish Tea Party wife and their daydreamy teen daughter fret about the BP oil spill and a species of endangered frogs that might prevent them from expanding their church’s parking lot. Woodbury has little patience for both blues and reds and loves to skewer the of hypocrisies of both camps. To help her stay true to her own voice, she could use a director (none is credited) to help her shape and simplify her frantic character changes; she has a capable range of accents but spends scenes shifting wildly around in her chair to make sure we’re following who’s who. Besides the chair, the only prop onstage is a handycam that records each episode for the internet and streams it live on a screen against the wall. It’s unclear yet if the distraction will prove purposeful, but what’s certain from the starting gate is that the enthusiastic Woodbury has energy for miles (and months).
Pared down to 80 minutes, writer-director Lisa Wolpe’s breakneck adaptation of The Winter’s Tale opens with a fatal temper tantrum. King Leontes (Scott McRae) believes his wife (Heidi Rose Robbins) is hugely pregnant with the child of his friend — and now, sworn enemy — Polixenes (Andrew Heffernan). In short order, the king has banished or doomed nearly his entire court, though before she’s hauled off and declared dead, Robbins, whose character is weak from torture and tall with dignity, commands the stage with a killer last speech. Miraculously, Apollo will set this right, but en route, the actors rush, shout and muddy their lines with neeedless accents, and risk losing the audience in so doing. In such a taut tragedy, Wolpe could easily cut the scene of comic relief between a shepherd (McRae) and his idiot son (David Glasser) and amp up the heat, especially in the steamy dance of love between a prince (Glasser) and a secret princess (Laura Covelli). With tweaks, this very likable staging could be a pocket-sized success.
Mabel (Bonnie Hunt), a naive Des Moines housewife, calls a graveyard shift salesman named Joe in Los Angeles (Timothy McNeil), to order an expensive watch for her son’s 18th birthday. She can’t yet go through with the purchase — her loutish husband (Tony Gatto) says the boy (Edward Tournier) doesn’t deserve it, and once we meet him, we agree. But these two strangers both have a black hole of loneliness and she keeps calling Joe back until both allow themselves a sharp sliver of hope that they might still redeem the mess they’ve made of their lives. McNeil’s play flags under slow plotting, but he has a merciless, intuitive ear for how bullies manipulate their prey. In nearly every scene, Gatto, Tournier and a sales boss played by Micah Cohen (alternating the role with James Pippi) destroy these two secret sweethearts, as well as Mabel’s divorcée neighbor Gina Garrison, who’s insecure enough to start her own secret affair with the teen. These three villains are so terribly good, it’s a miracle that a rattled audience member hasn’t slashed the actors’ tires during intermission. And when Mabel and Joe cling to each other on the phone, we’re happy they’re happy. Director Lindsay Allbaugh’s fantastic ensemble sells us on each individual scene, even if the play as a whole doesn’t add up to more then some well-acted catharses. Kelly Elizabeth and Joe Wiebe join in for the furious climax as two fellow high schoolers who bear witness to what even the adamantly optimistic Mabel admits is the world’s worst birthday party.
The New Jersey hamlet of Weehawken is the site of the Hamilton-Burr duel, a fitting locale for a comedy where the characters are goaded to the the brink of murder. The players are a long-married husband and wife (Gregory Mortensen and Melanie Jones) and their three daughters, all adopted as teenagers. The missis is a domestic dervish; he’s sarcastic and near-mute. Gena Acosta’s spry play follows the build-up to and fallout of a dinner party for middle daughter Robin (Kalie Quinones) and stoner fiancé Hamster’s (Aaron Pressburg) baby-to-be, with estranged daughter Dylan (Tara Norris) and bad luck daughter Rose (Catie Doyle) guilted into attendance along with guest stars Michael and Julian (Scott Hartman and Michael Mullen), their new gay neighbors who have presented them with an atrocious polymer artificial bouquet. (”A space bush!” Jones exclaims.) Chaos is the main course of the play, but the meat is dad’s announcement that he’s decided to stop his treatments for brain cancer. This is a play about the value of life fully — and loudly — lived, and as such, Jones spends the second act raging against the dying of the light by channeling King Henry II. Matt Gourley’s direction is a little too hesitant to balance mania and meaning — each actor finds at least one moment to shine, but only Jones navigates the clashing tones: Her blithe chattering is gradually exposed as the desperate optimism of a woman aware she’s held her family together by sheer force of will, and her subjects are rebelling.
How does Zombie Joe’s Underground make A.A. Milne’s short story, “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place,” NSFW? When Winnie-the-Pooh (John Byford) gets stuck in Rabbit’s (Catherine Weiss) hole, ZJU doesn’t mean ‘burrow.’ That’s the capper of four radically-reimagined tales from Pooh Corner — or should I say, the Pooh Corner Confessions. Writer Adam Neubauer and directs Amanda Marquardt have set a new high — or low — for fractured fairy tales: Christopher Robin (Lisa Younger) is a drunk, Tigger (Devavani Conroy) a sex fiend, Eeyore (Neubauer) a guyliner addict, and Piglet (Jonica Patella) is a pint-sized, tits-mad, manic masturbator who sticks a balloon of coke up her ass. As for Pooh, he’s so devoted to licking every last drop of honey from his beloved Hunny Pot (charming silent comedienne Jaclyn Ngan), I blushed harder than a 12-year-old watching a sex scene with his grandma. But Dirty Pooh doesn’t flinch. The cast and creative team are so do-or-die committed that you’d swear everyone in Pooh Corner had balls of steel — if their spandex outfits hadn’t already given you a good look. Go, but get a babysitter or prepare to answer even tougher questions than, “What’s a Tigger?”