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La Jolla Playhouse basks in Chaplin’s ‘Limelight’

September 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Limelight's Rob McClure as Charlie Chaplin (Craig Schwartz photo)

 

 

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

LA JOLLA, California —  Right out of the gate…don’t miss Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan (book) and Christopher Curtis (music and lyrics). It is now in its world-premiere production at the Playhouse, where it  is directed by Warren Carlyle and Michael Unger. I am confident that there are big things in store for it, like a Broadway run. I never underestimate the powers of a really, really good show!

Let’s start off with Rob McClure who plays the inimitable Chaplin. He was recently seen as Princeton in Avenue Q in Broadway and the national touring productions.

When you’re good, you’re good and he good as in excellent. He is talented and has just the right look and stature of a Chaplin as he weaves his way through the Chaplinesque years and more. With Warren Carlyle’s choreography and Linda Cho’s perfect costume designs, McClure is at home as Chaplin.

He is nimble and quite adept at the silent film star’s antics of falling down, and that famous rolling up and prancing about in his duck like walk-shuffle. (“Tramp Shuffle”) with a cane that is as flexible as the star himself. Read more…

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‘MiXtape’ and ‘The Full Monty’ enliven local theatre scene

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO–Recently I wove my car down to the Gaslamp District to catch the tail end of Lamb’s Players Theatre’s miXtape, a little 80’s musical review written by resident Lamb’s actors Jon Lorenz (musical arrangements) and Colleen Kollar Smith (she also choreographed) and directed by another long time resident player and staff favorite Kerry Meads. The young (at least to me) bouncy and energetic cast includes Louis Pardo, Season Marshall Duffy, Joy Yandell, Marci Anne Wuebben, Lance Arthur Smith, Leonard Patton, Spencer Rowe and Michelle Pereira.

The musical journey that they, as an ensemble and individually, take us through include songs from U2, Duran Duran, Amy Grant, Huey Lewis, Poynter Sisters and a few I recognized; Madonna, Michael Jackson (especially the dance number they did) and Billy Joel.

They embrace Generation X to its fullest giving us a flashback to the 80’s scene including MTV, big hair, leg warmers, workout outfits (“Let’s Get Physical”), a Richard Simmons look a like and an odd combination of period dress (Jemima Dutra) that, looking back was rather nondescript. (I had almost blocked that out of my memory). Read more…

A Wynn, win happening in Vegas

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

La Reve~Las Vegas style

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

LAS VEGAS–If you’re looking for spectacular, eye popping, lip drooling, utter amazement and sheer pleasurable entertainment drop in at the Wynn Resort on the Vegas Strip in Las Vegas and catch La Rêve (The Dream). you won’t be disappointed.

Created by ex Cirque creator, Franco Dragone, the show is now in its fifth year and I can’t imagine anyone not seeing it on his or her next trip to Vegas.

Le Rêve is the ultimate underwater show in the round you will see in some time. Dragone whose prints are on  “Mystere”, and “O” has taken “Le Rêve” (this is not a Cirque show) to the next level and it is one engrossing and awe inspiring experience under Brian Burke’s nifty direction.

Le Rêve, which gets its name from a 1932 Picasso painting showing a woman sleeping on a chair starts off pretty much with a woman and her lover embracing. When they part, she walks off on to a platform, snuggles into a chair, and falls asleep. Before our eyes she is submerged into the water. (There is a million gallon tank that allows performers both sea and sky access). The show then proceeds to follow her through a series of dream cycles some of which are happy, some bizarre, some controversial, some sad and some pretty sexy.  Read more…

Moonlight closes season with strong ‘Miss Saigon’

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

By Carol Davis          

Carol Davis

VISTA, California –Every now and then it’s good to look back and reflect on the deeds and actions in which our country has been involved. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned tragedy to bring us to our senses, or not. Take for example Puccini’s  “Madama Butterfly” and Claude-Michael Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s “Miss Saigon”.

Puccini wrote “Madama Butterfly” (“Miss Saigon” is based on that opera) in 1904.  The story revolves around the arranged marriage between the American, U.S. Navy Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton and his geisha Cio-Cio-San, and ends in tragedy when Pinkerton and his ship leave the port  and his Japanese ‘wife’ behind.  He later returns to the States and marries an American woman.

Cio-Cio-San, who by now has a son, waits for Pinkerton because she believed him when he told her he would return for her. I’m sure I’m not spoiling anything for anyone when I tell you he had no intention of returning for her but when he finally does, she already knows he has married the American. In her mind, the only solution for her to save face and give her child a better life is for her to kill herself.

How and why we keep repeating our mistakes when it comes to our social behaviors is beyond me. Rather than taking the high ground instead of the lowest common denominator and acting like spoiled and entitled children when we are guests, occupy or are fighting in another country is still an unanswered question. But it happens over and over again which lends itself to yet another, more up to date version of  “Butterfly”.

Fast forward to Vietnam, (the war lasted from 1955 to 1975) where once again American G.I.’s took the women of that country for their pleasure leaving behind thousands of ‘half breeds’ or ‘leftovers’; ‘children of the dust’ of Vietnamese mothers and U.S. soldiers. These children were left at orphanages or to fend for themselves and live in poverty and starvation in a country devastated by war. Neither story is about war, but the scars of war. Read more…

‘Love, Sex and Violence’ more charming than name implies

September 13, 2010 1 comment

By Cynthia Citron

Cynthia Citron

SHERMAN OAKS, California — Sometimes a book of short stories is a welcome diversion from the usual industrial-strength novels.  Just as an evening of short one-acts can provide a satisfying evening at the theater.  And that’s just what playwright Helena Weltman and producer/director Pavel Cerny have brought to the stage of the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks.

The six vignettes, collectively titled Love, Sex, and Violence Too is subtitled Or False Advertising, since there is mostly yearning for love, rather than love itself, and no sex or violence at all.

Although the first act gives sex a good college try as a young man (Allen Yates) brings home a waitress (Olivia Peri) from a nearby café.  He slips into a gaudy red dressing gown and plies her with wine in a paper cup.  But she is looking for a “meaningful relationship,” while he is just looking to get laid.

In the next scene a married couple (Lisa-Beth Harris and Joshua Grenrock) are having a late-night drink after a triumphant party celebrating the publication of her book on baking.  He is heaping her with platitudes, which only annoys her, and very soon their marriage is falling apart right before your eyes.  (Grenrock was the “brilliantly poignant” lead clown—the man with an air of desperation and a rubber face—in Circus Welt, which director Cerny adapted from Leonid Andreyev’s  He Who Gets Slapped, presented earlier this year.  Grenrock has been nominated for a 2010 Ovation Award for that role.)

Adrian Lee Borden and Desi Jevon are strangers marooned in a stalled elevator in “Boring,” the third vignette.  In contrast with the recent play Elevator, in which seven people are stranded in a large elevator, a situation that doesn’t seem at all frightening or claustrophobic, this elevator in “Boring” encloses the two actors in a very small square with little room to move around, and so their getting-to-know-you conversation is close-up, personal, and bizarre.

“Thirteen Months, Two Weeks” is how long Lacey Rae has been wasting the time of her psychiatrist, Robbin Ormond.  She lies, contradicts herself, and needles the doctor with confrontational personal questions, much to the psychiatrist’s consternation.  In desperation, the psychiatrist protests, “You hear my interest as a judgment…”

In the next scene Robbin Ormond plays the psychiatrist again, this time alone on stage talking to her own psychiatrist.  This vignette is the best of the lot, beautifully written and gloriously acted, as Ormond expresses her frustration and anger with her clients and deals with—and avoids—her own personal dramas.  “I can’t take life any more, it’s too painful,” she says.

And finally, ending on a lighter note, Lacey Rae meets a dancer (Eddy Hawks) in a hamburger joint and with headwaiter Ward Edmondson, the three “tap dance to survive,” as Eddy puts it.

While the six vignettes differ in tone and intensity, they make for an engaging mix—even though some scenes are considerably better than others (and sometimes make more sense).  For the most part, the overarching themes are loneliness, disappointment, and estrangement, but surprisingly, there is a good deal of humor in the midst of all the pathos.  And director Cerny has done a good job of bringing out the best in his actors.  Making it a very pleasant outing for a Sunday afternoon.

Love, Sex and Violence Too will be performed every Sunday at 2 p.m. through October 17th at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., in Sherman Oaks.  Call 866-811-4111 for tickets.

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Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief of San Diego Jewish World

‘Becky’s New Car’ fun but predictable at North Coast Rep

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Carla Hartig and Mark Pinter in "Becky's New Car by Steven Dietz. (Photo: Adam Rumley)

    

By Carol Davis    

Carol Davis

SOLANA BEACH, California —Becky’s New Car, the play by Steven Dietz, is probably newer than the car our heroine Becky Foster (Carla Harting makes the tale convincing) gets from her boss as a perk for selling more cars in one night than the other salesperson at her dealership, Steve (Mueen Jahan), has sold in probably one month.

Well, maybe not. The play first went into rehearsals in 2009 but the idea was inspired when theatre enthusiast Charles Staadecker, as a birthday present for his wife Benita’s 60th birthday, wanted to commission a play as a birthday surprise. Staadecker, whose wife was a former Seattle ACT board member, approached the board to measure their interest in a new play. Fast forward, Dietz was approached and the rest, they say is history.

Becky’s New Car now being mounted on the North Coast Repertory stage has been produced only eleven times according to artistic director and director of this production David Ellenstein. It’s a quirky piece that weaves in and out of situations that at times get sidetracked and oft derailed because too much is going on for this little piece. It could substitute as a sit COM with at least five or so episodes in this two act play alone.

Our heroine if you will, 40 something year old Becky, and her husband Joe (Nicolas Glaeser is appealing and easy) and their son Chris (Kevin Koppman-Gue) appear to be a pleasant enough family unit. As mentioned earlier Becky sells cars as well as manages the office at the dealership, Joe is a roofing contractor and 26-year-old Chris (still living at home) is a psych major.

Funny thing happens one night when Becky is working late at the dealership; business tycoon and widower Walter Flood (Mark Pinter) appears out of nowhere (I must add a grey Fox worthy of a second look) wanting to buy a bunch of new cars as gifts for his employees. After she completes the sale, she gets a new car as a bonus from her boss and Walter is smitten.

One thing leads to another. Walter thinks Becky is either divorced or widowed just because the conversation veers that way. He then proceeds to woo her and she buys right into it by allowing him his assumptions. I can’t say that I blame her.

Walter is verrrry good looking, rich, suave and quite charming. And…she needs a little away time from good ol’ Joe, just because it’s a chance for something different, new car, etc, etc.  No harm intended, just a change of pace from her sameness and hey, it’s a free ride for the time being. Who can it hurt if no one finds out?

Earth to Becky watch out for mine fields!!!!!!!!!

The whole first act builds as the two become telephone friends, Steve kvetches on Becky’s shoulder about the loss of his wife, Joe is off and busy with his roofing business and Chris psychobabbles throughout. Becky goes back and forth from home to the dealership as she chats with the audience and the lighting crew (Matt Novotny) telling them/us where she is headed. Breaking that fourth wall interrupts and prolongs the momentum of a play that really doesn’t need any more distractions.

The desk of the dealership and that of the Foster living room (Marty Burnett) are steps away from each other and when she’s not busy working at the dealership and trying to balance both her worlds, like her making excuses to both her husband and her co worker for her absences, she’s getting deeper and deeper involved with the infatuated Walter who thinks he has a chance with her.

Things get more complicated before they get ironed out in act two. Suddenly Chris has a mysterious girlfriend, Kensington (Stacey Hardke is sharp as a tack) who paces him in her car while he runs for exercise and Walter’s bitter friend and ex wealthy socialite, Ginger (Glynn Bedington is at her wittiest best here) shows up competing for his attention. 

Bedington’s character Ginger adds some much needed down to earth cynicism, a little funny edge and comic relief to otherwise predictable situations and she does it like an expert.
 
Both muddle the picture and maybe add a few question marks, but it’s all done according to formula.  As complicated as the situations these characters create, they are kind of red herrings in the scheme of things that follow. It’s no secret that all will end well.  What surprises is Joe’s attitude. For that little nugget, Dietz takes the road less traveled.

Considering the convincing acting of the cast, some funny situations here and there and Ellenstein’s gentle direction, Becky’s New Car, is just another mid life crisis, funny but OK play that would do best on TV.  
 
See you at the theatre.
Dates: September 4th- 26th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive. Ste d, Solana Beach, Ca
Ticket Prices: $30.  -$47.00
Web: northcoastrep.org

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Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego

‘Yellow’ tackles some bold issues

September 7, 2010 1 comment

By Cynthia Citron

Cynthia Citron

WEST HOLLYWOOD, California–At last, a family that isn’t dysfunctional!  A mother and father still romantically in love after 19 years of marriage.  A football hero son who is their pride and joy.  A young daughter, a high school drama queen with lots of the usual teen-age issues, and her best friend, a sweet, gay young man whom they shelter when his own mother disowns him.

The play is Yellow, written and directed by Del Shores, and currently extending its world premiere engagement at the Coast Playhouse in response to public and critical acclaim.  And it’s well-deserved acclaim, I might add.

The play itself is gripping, but it is made even more engaging by its actors, who are unfailingly terrific.  Robert Lewis Stephenson, as the father, Bobby Westmoreland, is a happy-go-lucky high school football coach.  His wife, Kate (Kristen McCullough), is a psychotherapist.  The kids, Dayne (Luke McClure) and Gracie (Evie Louise Thompson) are appropriately rambunctious.  But even in this talented ensemble, Matthew Scott Montgomery is a standout.  Playing Kendall Parker, the gay would-be thespian, he is charming, awkward, socially inept, and timid.  As the third kid in the Westmoreland home, he plays most of his scenes with his mouth hanging open in amazement at the family’s antics.

You can understand why when you meet his termagant of a mother.  A confirmed Jesus freak, she speaks only in Bible and pours pious venom on everyone she encounters.  She is toxic, especially to Kendall, whom she insists on calling “Matthew Mark.”  She also calls herself “Sister Timothea.”  As played by the excellent Susan Leslie, Sister Timothea is a hand grenade waiting to explode. 

But the Westmoreland family explodes first.  When a rare and life-threatening illness strikes one of them, it opens a Pandora’s box of secrets and lies, tearing the family apart.

Robert Steinberg has designed a dollhouse of a set: living room, dining room, bedroom and wrap-around ivy-pillared porch.  The costumes by Craig Taggart reflect the tastes of rural Mississippi: both Bobby and Dayne wear “Ol’ Miss” shirts, and Sister Timothea is respectably frumpy.  Drew Dalzell and Mark Johnson have also done well with the sound design: crowd noises and the offstage voice of the doctor move the plot along without diverting scene changes, so the house remains intact as the actors move in and out.

And Del Shores has done a superb job of directing his ensemble, making sure there is plenty of light humor along with the intense emotions.  All in all, a very satisfying visit to the theatre.

Yellow will continue at the Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., in West Hollywood, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 7 through October 17th.  Call 800-595-4849 for tickets.

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Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief of San Diego Jewish World.