In this astral, half-actor/half-puppet rock opera, the Starmites — a cross between Power Rangers and N*SYNC — are under attack from the evil Shak Graa (Matthew McFarland) who threatens to “debase, deflower, degrade and digest” inner space. Only earthling teen Eleanor (Natalie Storrs) can save the day — and luckily for man- and alienkind, she’s a comic book geek who’s already boned up on the backstory in Starmites issues 1 to 20,995. Barry Keating and Stuart Ross’ musical is slim on plot, but packed with ditties as Eleanor blasts off into space with the boys (Michael Joyce, Thomas Krottinger, Jonah Prior and Donald Webber Jr.) to wrest a magical weapon-instrument from the forest of the sexy space banshees (Jen Reiter, Riana Nelson, Jessica Perlman and Raquel Sandler). The technics are great, especially Phil Kong’s playful lighting design, and Diane Adams’ vocal arrangements flaunt the ensemble’s talents. But the songs carry on for longer than their repetitive lyrics hold interest, then carry on further through several reprises. Despite its skill, at two and a half hours long, it’s unconscionably long for a musical fueled only by charm. Even Eleanor’s feisty femmepowerment gets bogged down with a several-scene detour about finding inner beauty. The savior is Steve Edlund’s crisp directing and his enthusiastic cast — when Storrs rushed to the rescue at the climax, she thundered onstage with such purpose she accidentally kicked her shoe to the rafters and closed out the play barefoot.
Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category
It was 1930 when Langston Hughes met Cuba’s Poet Laureate-to-be Nicolas Guillen, and the two young writers — both born with the turn of that century — were burning with ambition and the awareness that their mulatto skin was their fuel. Though Harlem’s darling and a martyr’s son shared the same color and considered themselves soul mates, over the next 37 years, different pressures splintered their brotherhood during the Spanish Revolution and proved an unbridgeable gulf during the ’60s, when Hughes was persecuted in McCarthy’s courtroom and Guillen was celebrated in Castro’s revolution. At stake is the power of poetry — and the duty of the poet to back up his words. Bernardo Solano and Nancy Cheryll Davis’ lyrical, decades-spanning play is one-part plot, one-part playtime, with frequent dips into dance, music and recitation. The enthusiastic 17-person ensemble fills the stage, as charismatic leads Justin Alston and Chris Rivas, and later the stately Brian Evert Chandler and Armando Ortega, hit the big points on the time line. Though it’s plenty smart, the political charge is dissipated by intimations that the artists were more then friends — or at least hoped to be. It’s a pointless distraction, albeit one that comes with Ana Maria Lagasca and Maggie Palomo’s charming turns as Guillen’s jealous wife.
This Hollywood Gothic comedy parodies the Sunset Boulevard, but its main drag is that strip of Santa Monica where you can buy a boy for a benjamin. Struggling French-Arab actor Joe (Quentin Elias) has sold himself plenty between soap opera stints. He’s a beefcake, so packed with muscles he’s as broad as he is tall, and Joseph Castel and Danny De La Paz’s script finds any excuse to parade his natural gifts — Elias spends several scenes in his skivvies, and two in just a leather apron and socks. When Joe pulls into the mansion of disgraced drag actress Norman Desmond (Miss Lana Luster, a grande dame), he’s mistaken for the gravedigger ordered by housekeeper Max (Joe Garcia) to inter her pet (and meal ticket) the Taco Bell chihuahua. But Norman’s plotting a comeback: the lead role in a biopic on Divine. (”I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Waters.”) The Billy Wilder classic starred two shrewd schemers; this lampoon is a hustle. Director De La Paz delights in his tawdriness: The set is garishly gold and tasseled, Elias is forever licking his lips, and Norman practices Divine’s final scene in Pink Flamingos (you know, that one). “What’s my motivation?” she commands. And, well, there isn’t much of one. The Blvd. is a Xerox of a masterpiece. The second act splices in gags from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? — they are, after all, two mansion melodramas about superstars and their live-in help — but despite their similarities, the show doesn’t blend the two tales together. Instead, it feels like the same cast is in two concurrent plays. With more thought — and more of its own motivation — this could be a solid send-up, but it needs more scenes like the dynamite showdowns between Ms. Desmond and Max, when the latter is tarted up in a pinafore and serving Ms Desmond a roasted parrot.
The Postal Service’s 2003 album Give Up is 45 minutes of dreamy romance harakiri — catchy, perfectly-crafted pop for lovers who can’t get their fix. And now it’s a play, or really, a live album-listening experience with eight performers gamboling to the music like doodles scribbled in a notebook. Conceived and directed by Doug Oliphant, the plot — or really, sketch of a plot — follows an emo-guitarist (Anthony Storwick) who wins fame but loses his girlfriend (Bridgette Patchen). Postal Service songwriters Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello are earnest about these minor tragedies of the heart, but deliver them with a shrug of “This too shall pass.” It’s an album for idealists a few drinks shy of fresh perspective. Lyrics like “I kissed you in a style that Clark Gable would have admired,” are swoonworthy, but slyly self-conscious; to buy into this vision of silver screen love is to be continually disappointed. Oliphant recognizes that, and what redeems this odd dance piece is his refusal to sell us a happy ending for his rock star cross’d lovers. Still, without the album — which at seven years old is neither nostalgic nor new — what’s left behind hasn’t been fleshed out enough to stand alone. If Oliphant really wants to reach “Such Great Heights,” he can’t use a CD as a crutch.
In his documentary Encounters at the End of the World, Werner Herzog described the denizens of Antarctica’s McMurdo Station as wanderers who tumbled down to the South Pole for lack of roots attaching them to anywhere sane. Jessica Manuel doesn’t seem to fit the profile: The perky Minnesotan homecoming queen left home, family and boyfriend to spend a year cranking fuel valves in the Antarctic’s -80 F permanent midnight. Why? To escape the normalcy she saw as a noose. Her solo show traffics in the exotic mundane — it’s an insider scoop on what the heck people eat, drink and do at the bottom of the Earth (Answer: Tater Tots, booze and harass the newbies.) Directed by Paul Linke, Manuel tells her story in a cheerleader’s squeal. Thematically, it’s as thin as ice, but Manuel dishes on the slow onset of winter insanity and shares how the boredom of total snow madness inspired Herzog’s gang of adventurers to start their own theater troupe.
Those who can see imagine blindness to be barren of detail. But for 41-year-old Molly Sweeney (Melina Bielefelt), blind since 10 months old, her dark world is intricate and alive: She can tell flowers by feel, and dance wildly through her home without a bruise. In Irish playwright Brian Friel’s stark 1996 drama, when Molly’s newlywed husband Frank (Matthew McCallum) — a man bursting with the type of passion that creates (and destroys) civilizations — convinces alcoholic optician Mr. Rice (John Ross Clark) to “heal” his wife, all three admit the peril. Molly must be taught to see, to spot a peach without touch or smell. “There’s a difference between learning and understanding,” cautions the doctor, but neither of the men grasp that their real motive for the surgery is personal ego. (The triumphant headlines Frank imagines focus on his joyful tears.) Randee Trabitz directs her excellent ensemble on a stage divided by two translucent scrims. As Molly retreats into “her world” — the one Friel validates for the audience (during his first draft of the play, he also underwent cataract surgery) — she slips behind them until, toward the end, we can scarcely see her at all. We’re as blind to Molly as her doctor and her husband are to her as well, though we suspect she sees through us all just fine.
In the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Marcus (Keith Arthur Bolden) isn’t scared of the newly arrived hurricane, Katrina. Marcus is an expert on everything — at least, he watches a lot of TV — and vows the water won’t rise above 10 feet. But Marcus’ theories and conclusions have always gotten him, brother Quentin (Tony Williams) and Marcus’ girlfriend, Charlie (Candice Afia), in over their heads with one bad hustling scheme after another. Still, Marcus is convinced he’s the brains of the group, even if he has to badger Quentin and Charlie until they agree. When Quentin limps in, sopping wet, still wearing his orange prison jumpsuit with a bullet hole in his thigh, the two siblings have a violent score to settle. Terence Anthony’s taut one-act drama is effective agony. Two character twists may not add up, but while the audience perches practically in the living room of Jorge I. Velasquez’s realistic, dingy set, with the rain hammering down, the tension is as thick as the storm clouds we imagine overhead. Solid performances keep the spell going, particularly by Afia as the strong-willed girlfriend trying to break free of Marcus’ emotional abuse. Sara Wagner directs.
The Rev. Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, opens Robert A. Prior’s play by defending his friendship with 11-year-old Alice Liddell before taking major hits off a hookah. (A professor, Michael Bonnabel, scribbling the mathematical formula for Wonderland, leaves that substance out of his equation.) Thus, um, inspired, Carroll (Lon Haber) dons a blond wig and reveals himself as Alice before plunging down the rabbit hole. Apart from the entrance of five other Alices chanting Carroll’s lines like a Greek chorus, Wonderland is familiar turf — a trip though our childhood memories of the text and the Disney cult cartoon laced with Jefferson Airplane and melodramatic music but otherwise played straight. The stars here are Teresa Shea’s costumes and sets and Lynn Jeffries’ puppets, a whirlwind of giant lobster claws and waves of parachute silk and 15-foot flower hats and packs of angry cards buzzing about the stage. Amidst the chaos, standouts include Bonnabel’s Caterpillar, Jabez Zuniga’s Queen of Hearts, Matthew Patrick Davis’ Mad Hatter, Lori Scarlett’s Mock Turtle — hell, pretty much everyone navigating this manic, uncertain, but enthusiastic staging.
Title3 is a new company dedicated to giving women strong, unusual, fascinating roles. For its first production, it has chosen Constance Congdon’s dark sociological piece about class resentment and privilege. Jane (Molly Leland), a brilliant, assured and beautiful professor of gender and semiotics — who drops phrases like “the nomenclature of the patriarchal case for hegemony” as easily as ordering a club sandwich — has just moved to a small college town with her self-centered, elderly mother (Danielle Kennedy). Just before the semester starts, Jane’s battered into a coma by a homeless woman (Lane Allison, in a menacing portrayal), who’s bitter over being one of society’s invisibles. As Jane struggles to make at best a partial recovery from irreversible brain damage, her attacker steals Jane’s identity, and is delighted to find that she’s treated as an icon. It’s true: The haves get more while the have-nots suffer. The mechanics of Congdon’s plot don’t make a lick of sense, but we’re hooked by the premise, and by director Courtney Munch’s great ensemble — filled out by Jiehae Park, Jane Montosi and Lorene Chesley in a variety of roles. By intermission, however, the play has made its point. It nonetheless continues to pad along, wedging in scenes in which a Puerto Rican social worker shows Jane’s mother how to use a Kegel exerciser, one of Montosi’s characters silently mops an entire floor, and the homeless attacker babysits her publisher’s drug-addicted daughter. To paraphrase a program note, Congdon needs to appraise this two-and-a-half hour muddle and chip away everything that doesn’t look like the very smart play about class tensions buried inside.
Adam (Jeffrey Cannata) isn’t a psychic. He’s just a broke, self-centered writer who scrawled a cardboard sign and a stack of penciled business cards in the hope of making rent. But he knows what disasters will befall his clients: the wife (Dana Green), her murderous husband (Cyrus Alexander), his faithless mistress (Bridget Flanery) and her mobster boyfriend (Richard Horvitz). How? They’re living clichés — and to playwright Sam Bobrick, the cliché’s the thing. Director Susan Morgenstern stages this trifle for broad comedy and she’s given a great boost from Horvitz, whose turn as the mafioso Johnny Bubbles is a pistol whip to the funny bone. By the second act, when the corpses mount, a detective (Phil Proctor) starts sniffing around Adam’s office and Horvitz yelps, “It’s like we’re in a bad production of Guys and Dolls,” we’re catching on that Bobrick is poking fun at lazy genres. But the jab is too late and too blunted. Still, an energetic cast keeps the zings flying fast enough that it’s possible to enjoy the murder-mystery as featherweight froth, instead of as a satire that takes aim at such fluff.