Nov 30, 2004

A Little More Leslie

Leslie Jordan's uproarious one-imp show LIKE A DOG ON LINOLEUM has been extended through Jan. 30, 2005 (the date has been amended in the Tally below).

To celebrate, I offer this sage quote on our national divide in "moral" values, which was the closer of my recent Times feature on Jordan but was cut (presumably) for length.
“I think what happened in this election is that we as gay people got caught up in that culture war,” Jordan says. “I really wish, if we had it all do over, that we would just drop the word ‘marriage.’ Marriage is not what we want, you know? We can sanction our unions in our churches in front of our gay-friendly gods. We don’t need their church. I don’t want to get married in the Baptist church, anyway--please!”

My only quibble with this sane-sounding, cut-your-losses approach is that it buys into the backwards notion--a favorite of conservative pundits who aren't bigots themselves, they assure us, even as they defend the views of bigots--that gays or Democrats or blue-staters in general somehow foisted the gay-marriage issue on this election. Last I checked it was the other side that drew up ballot measures and a constitutional amendment on the topic.

But Jordan is probably right, on practical grounds: As long as gay couples can secure equivalent legal rights, and there are churches willing to consecrate their unions, what's the diff? Some may call that separate but equal, but with something as personal as marriage, sexuality, and the inevitable religious or spiritual baggage none of us, on either side of the divide, can help but bring to these topics--well, there are some clubs who don't want you as a member and the feeling is mutual. As long as all our various self-selecting clubs can stay open for business, so to speak, I've got no problem with them being mutually exclusive. At least, it's better than the alternative.


Review of Reviews Tally, Michael Phillips Memorial Edition

No worries--the former Times critic is still among the living, happily scribbling away at the Chicago Tribune. But it has been officially three full years since Phillips gave notice, leaving the LA Times theatre critic post conspicuously vacant. Who knew it would gape empty for so long that most folks don't even remember what it's like to have a lead critic in this town? I'll leave my comments at that--just thought it was worth commemorating this important milestone.

Herewith is the week's tally of reviewed reviews, organized in more-or-less positive-to-negative order.

EXITS AND ENTRANCES at the Fountain Theatre through Dec. 18. Four rave reviews (and probably more) for Athol Fugard’s memory play.

CAROLINE, OR CHANGE at the Ahmanson Theatre through Dec. 25.
Four raves, one mixed-positive, and one mixed-negative review. “A whompin’ American hymn: half gospel, half davening, an ode to despair and a prayer for deliverance.”

A VERY MERRY UNAUTHORIZED CHILDREN’S SCIENTOLOGY PAGEANT at the Powerhouse Theatre through Dec. 19. Four raves, one mixed-negative review. "A provocative mix of Christmas-pageant sincerity, Christopher Durang-like irony, and unexpected rage.”

LIKE A DOG ON LINOLEUM at the Elephant Asylum Theatre through Jan. 30, 2005. Three rave reviews for Leslie Jordan’s solo show. "House-shaking hilarity and heart-tugging candor.”

OUROBOROS at the Road Theatre through Dec. 18. Three rave reviews for Tom Jacobson’s play about couples on a spiritual quest in Italy. ”An enchanting metaphysical etude.”

A FLEA IN HER EAR at A Noise Within through Dec. 11. Two rave reviews, one strongly positive review, and one mixed-positive review for this production of Feydeau’s farce. “Dense with details and zipping along at an ever-accelerating pace.”

LETTING GO OF GOD at the Hudson Backstage through Dec. 19. Two raves and one mixed-positive review for Julia Sweeney’s solo show about losing her religion. “Brave, hilarious, and ultimately moving.”

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at A Noise Within through Dec. 3. Two raves and one mixed-positive review. ““A sumptuous, visually arresting production."

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES at Long Beach’s Edison Theatre through Dec. 11. Two rave reviews of the two-part epic. “Eminently stageworthy, even more so than at the much larger Taper.”

A CONSTANT STAR at the Laguna Playhouse through Dec. 4. One rave and two mixed-positive reviews for Tazewell Thompson play about activist Ida B. Wells. “Culturally enriching and… beautifully performed.”

THREE at Electric Lodge through Dec. 4. Two raves and one positive review for Patricia Cotter’s new play about relationships. ”A fresh and tender comedy.”

THE LESSON at City Garage through Dec. 12. Three strongly positive reviews. “If you've never seen any Ionesco, this serves as a great introduction.”

BASIC TRAINING at the 2nd Stage Theatre through Dec. 5. Two strongly positive reviews and two mixed-positive reviews. ”Nonstop energy and world-class humor.”

DEALING WITH CLAIR at the Matrix Theatre through Dec. 19. Two strongly positive reviews and one mixed-positive review for Martin Crimp's mysterious drama. "A production that shames us, shakes us... makes us think.”

LYDIE BREEZE at the Open Fist Theatre through Dec. 4. One rave, one mixed-positive review, and one negative review for John Guare’s period drama. ”A thick New England chowder of determinism and dysfunction.”

BOLD GIRLS at the Matrix Theatre through Dec. 17. One rave, one mixed-positive review, and one all-around mixed review for Rona Munro's play about women in Belfast. “Artfully mingles the pedestrian and the profound… alternately wrenchingly funny and just plain wrenching.”

THE CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE at the Odyssey Theatre through Dec. 12. Two strongly positive reviews and one mixed-positive review for Manfred Karge’s epic play. “Simultaneously whimsical and gut-wrenching”

DOGEATERS at SIPA Performance Space in Filipinotown through Dec. 12. One strongly positive and two mixed-positive reviews for Jessica Hagedorn’s play. "Almost a historical circus… more Dos Passos than Brecht.”

A GIFT FROM HEAVEN at the Beverly Hills Playhouse through Dec. 19. Two positive reviews and one mixed-positive review for David Steen’s Southern tale. “Unadulterated Southern Gothic.”

URGENT AND CONFIDENTIAL: DEAN CAMERON’S NIGERIAN SPAM SCAM SCAM at Sacred Fools Theatre through Dec. 18. Two positive reviews for this satire of an actual ongoing email exchange between a con artist and an actor. “Doubly hilarious for being true.”

ANATOL VS. at the Met Theatre through Dec. 19. Two positive reviews, one mixed review for L. Flint Esquerra’s boxing-ring adaptation of Schnitzler’s Anatol. The LA Weekly’s Deborah Klugman found the tweaking “Delightfully unpredictable.”

AS VISHNU DREAMS at East West Players trhough Dec. 5. Three positive reviews and two mixed reviews. “A gripping interpretation… thoughtful, funny, and finally poignant dimensions.”

LAST SUMMER AT BLUEFISH COVE at the Davidson/Valenti Theatre through Dec. 18. One positive review and one mixed-positive review for this revival of Jane Chambers’ 1980 play about lesbian pals on holiday. “Exceptionally strong… ensemble work.”

MODERN DANCE FOR BEGINNERS at the Little Victory, indefinite run. Two strongly positive reviews, one mixed-positive review, and one mixed-negative review for Sarah Phelps’ sex comedy. “An abbreviated La Ronde, with more laughs.”

LIGHT at Theatre @ Boston Court through Dec. 11. Three mixed-positive reviews for Jean Claude Van Itallie’s intellectual love triangle. “Engaging and evocative, if somewhat overwritten.”

MACHINAL at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Center through Dec. 11. Two mixed-positive reviews for Sophie Treadwell’s symbolic drama. “A strange and wonderful piece of Expressionistic theater that seems of-the-moment all over again.”

THE CIRCLE at the Stella Adler Theatre through Dec. 18. One strongly positive review, one mixed-positive, and one mixed-negative for Shem Bitterman’s anguished post-Columbine drama. “A huge, almost unbearable concept… daring in execution, fierce in intention.”

2 ACROSS at the Santa Monica Playhouse through Dec. 19. One strongly positive review, one mixed-positive review, and one mixed-negative review for Jerry Mayer's romantic comedy. "Comically well-timed staging and two undemonstrative yet heartfelt performances.”

FOOL FOR LOVE at Theatre 68 in Hollywood through Dec. 12. Two positive reviews and one mixed-negative review for this Sam Shepard revival. “Elicits sympathy.”

MACBETT at West Hollywood’s Globe Playhouse through Dec. 12. One positive review, one mixed-positive review, and one negative review for Neno Pervan’s production of Ionesco’s absurdist reading of Shakespeare’s tragedy. “Gratifyingly revisionist staging.”

KITH AND KIN at the Hudson Guild through Dec. 18. One strongly positive, one positive, and one negative review for Oliver Hailey’s white-trash funeral comedy. “A specialized yet satisfying immorality play.”

HYENAS, OR THE MONOLOGUE OF THEODORE-FREDERIC BENOIT at Stages Theatre Center through Dec. 4. One mixed-positive review and two mixed reviews. "A fascinating existential showpiece, though not without some discrepancies.”

ANGEL STREET at Actors’ Co-op through Dec. 12. One mixed-positive review and two negative reviews for Patrick’s Hamilton’s thriller. “Doesn’t brake for subtleties.”

FREEDOMLAND at the Sidewalk Studios in Burbank through Dec. 18. Two negative reviews and one mixed-negative review for this revival of Amy Freed’s play about a multigenerational family. “Neither particularly funny nor insightful.”

OUT OF TIME at the Paul E. Richards Theater Place through Dec. 11. Two negative reviews for this piece about six characters in contemporary Athens, Ga. “Flounders in its endeavor to find an emotional center.”

DEAD STRANGERS at Gardner Stages through Dec. 12. Two strongly negative reviews for this gay murder mystery. “Like a slow-motion train wreck.”

Nov 29, 2004

Shepard to Shakespeare

Productions of Sam Shepard plays crop up with unseasonal regularity on L.A. stages, no doubt because actors love nothing more than putting on the wifebeater and letting the stubble grow, or donning a negligee and letting the loose ends frizz out, all the better to enjoy a good, loud wallow in drink, distress, and dysfunction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Director Artine Brown’s current revival of Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE at Theatre 68 in Hollywood is apparently a fine specimen, based on two reviews so far. The Weekly’s Miriam Jacobson wrote that “Shepard’s searing dialogue, combined with the high quality of the acting under Brown’s steady hand, elicits sympathy” for the play’s down-at-heels characters, though she found sound designer Gordon Bash's "thunderous" sound design an "unnecessary distraction." (His name is Bash, after all.) Back Stage West's Melinda Schupmann clearly admired the effort but, like the critics who couldn't hide their distaste for the milieu of A Gift From Heaven, she didn't seem enjoy herself much. "Creepy turmoil... short but certainly not sweet" is how she summed up the proceedings, adding that, in her obviously seasoned theatrical experience, Fool for Love "is like much of Shepard's work: a voyeuristic glimpse at the underbelly of people's hidden lives." A hidden underbelly--what will these critics think of next?
UPDATE: Patrick Corcoran, theatre critic at City Beat, emailed me to point out his own lukewarm review of same. Always good to have another outlet to look for reviews (but how often, Patrick?).

More disdain has come to FREEDOMLAND at the Sidewalk Studios in Burbank. The Weekly’s estimable Steven Leigh Morris, apparently drawn by writer Amy Freed’s pedigree, called it “a latter-day The Skin of Our Teeth” (while I compared it to a “post-hippie Heartbreak House--we critics just can’t help showing off a bit), but if that was intended as a compliment, that’s about as far as Morris’ praise went. He noted “some fine performances and the noblest efforts of director David Barry,” but ultimately found the play “a talky comedy about self-absorption — neither particularly funny nor insightful.” Ouch.

In retrospect it looks a bit like a lesbian version of Love! Valour! Compassion!, though Jane Chambers’ 1980 hit LAST SUMMER AT BLUEFISH COVE, now in a revival at the Davidson/Valenti Theatre on the campus of Hollywood’s L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, predates Terrence McNally’s by a decade. The Weekly’s Sandra Ross warmly reviewed director Sue Hamilton’s production as an effective time-travel exercise, with Ann Closs-Farley’s period costumes easing the journey, and thought the performers “hit the right comedic notes” and demonstrate “exceptionally strong… ensemble work” with both the play’s comic and dramatic turns. For his part, Back Stage West’s Wenzel Jones—whose review bafflingly fails to mention the playwright—was less persuaded, writing that “occasional flashes of… ambient closeness” in two-character scenes evaporate in group scenes that “look more like office parties than like family functions.” Jones quibbled with elements of nearly every performance except for that of Laura Philbin Coyle, “a gem… tucked away in a small role” as a lesbian sculptor.

The process behind the creation of OUT OF TIME at the Paul E. Richards Theater Place in Los Feliz got better notices than the play itself, about six characters in contemporary Athens, Ga. “Sounds profound,” the Weekly’s Martín Hernández wrote of the way the young troupe nom de guerre develops its work through collaborative improv, but what’s onstage “flounders in its endeavor to find an emotional center.” Likewise, Back Stage West’s Jennie Webb speculated that during “four months of presumably fascinating work between six obviously gifted actors and one apparently inspiring creative force,” director Guillermo Cienfuegos, “an ‘end result’ wasn't first and foremost in anyone's mind.” Which is a shame, she wrote, because the show’s actors have created “lovely, fully realized characters” and give performances “rooted in… a strong, truthful place,” even if they don’t “wind up anywhere that adds up.”

The Times’ David C. Nichols gave a wholehearted endorsement to Patricia Cotter’s relationship dramedy THREE at Venice’s solar-powered Electric Lodge, which has already received generally strong reviews. Though he, like his peers, noted a few of Cotter’s overly pat “slogans and stereotypes,” he called the show a must-see for “locals dissatisfied with the current divide on morality” because its “acerbic study of three couples… addresses monogamy with considerable convulsive insight.”

The Weekly’s Tom Provenzano departed a bit from his peers on Jerry Mayer’s two-character romantic comedy 2 ACROSS at the Santa Monica Playhouse, finding it a “rich, theatrical piece that places both despondency and joy above the jokes.” In its “unlikely but fascinating 80 minutes… light banter turns to raw emotion” under director Deborah Harmon.

Back Stage West’s Terry Morgan was less impressed than his colleagues by MODERN DANCE FOR BEGINNERS at the Little Victory Theatre in Burbank. He praised the “impressive acting and tight direction” but found Sarah Phelps' “undeniably witty and amusing” play “unfortunately slight,” without “anything new to add” to its model, La Ronde. Morgan added a divertingly personal touch in deploring the show’s long transitions: “The costume changes between scenes are needlessly long… sometimes lasting up to two minutes—I timed them, which says something.” Always love those reminders that critics are just flesh-and-blood creatures whose tailbones are as tested by tedium as the next theatregoer’s.

Garnering some of the week’s most divided notices was MACBETT at West Hollywood’s Globe Playhouse. Director Neno Pervan offers his own unique take on Ionesco’s absurdist reading of Shakespeare’s tragedy, and the result is a “gratifyingly revisionist staging,” according to the Times’ F. Kathleen Foley, though she quibbled with Pervan’s sightline-oblivious staging and with Zoran Radanovich lead performance, which “hits the right emotional levels” but has too much “leaping, occasionally unmotivated aerobics.” The Weekly’s Stevern Mikulan was delighted both by the Ionesco’s innovations on the original, which make “a rollicking yet, paradoxically, thoughtful exploration of the Scottish tragedy,” and by Pervan’s “Rocky Horror Show production,” the sum of which, he wrote, is “a well-acted reinterpretation of Shakespeare that respects the Bard while it mocks his solemnity.” Back Stage West’s Brad Schreiber sounded the only sour note in this chorus of dazzlement, imagining that Ionesco wouldn’t like the show’s “bursts of electronic music” and “taped machine-gun fire.” He found the evening “unbearably slow… even at its shortened length,” and opined that Pervan “has enervated his own darkly comedic ideas.” This sounds like another must-see-so-I-can-make-up-my-own-mind productions.

Shticky Schnitzler

Critics turned in admiring but variously quibbling reviews for writer/director L. Flint Esquerra’s adaptation Schnitzler’s tale of a serial womanizer, Anatol at Hollywood’s Met Theatre, which Esquerra sets in a boxing ring and re-titles ANATOL VS.. The LA Weekly’s Deborah Klugman found the tweaking “delightfully unpredictable” and Esquerra’s staging “effective” at bringing forht “the piece’s existential humor.” And while Back Stage West’s Jeff Favre acknowledged that “audiences unfamiliar with the original text won't be able to appreciate Esquerra's handiwork on a deeper level,” he praised an “intelligent, easily accessible script and sharp direction, performed by a captivating cast” making a “mostly lighthearted 75-minute battle of the sexes.” Not so fast, countered the Times’ Philip Brandes: He gave Esquerra points for “follow[ing] his predecessor's lead in structural experimentation” and “preserving Schnitzler's unsentimental clarity,” but found the boxing conceit “an uneasy graft that clashes with the original source,” most markedly in its clear sympathies for Anatol’s female marks, but also in the way its “heavy-handed antics” overwhelm the “subtlety of Schnitzler's trenchant psychological insights.” All the critics praised Lisa Welti, who plays all of Anatol’s lovers, as “impressive” and “chameleon-like.” For myself, I have fond memories of Jessica Kubzansky’s staging of the Schnitzler original for Buffalo Nights Theatre Company at the Powerhouse Theatre in 2001, in which the unlikely Kevin Weisman made the lead character his own in a way that suggested a more virile, and more existentially despairing, Woody Allen.

Nov 26, 2004

This Just In: Klansmen No Longer Funny

"The baddies elicit topical unease, hardly conducive to farce. Owen's aim of white supremacy doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore, and the climactic face-off with Klansmen plays as stark melodrama."

What is this harrowing theatrical experience, which current events have rendered so hard to watch? Larry Shue's The Foreigner, of course, in a current production at the Odyssey Theatre. Yes, folks, David C. Nichols' Times review today takes this week's prize for dubious and unsolicited political commentary--an honor usually reserved for the otherwise exquisitely written musings of the Weekly's Steven Leigh Morris (whose recent feature-length review of Caroline, or Change is a model of how we all wish we could write about theatre--and is also an instance of social and political exegesis that's entirely welcome and relevant).

Goin' South

A pair of white-trash wingdings opened recently to decent but slightly dismissive reviews—the sort that essentially say, Well done but why we do have to watch?

Reviews for a revival of David Steen’s A GIFT FROM HEAVEN at the Beverly Hills Playhouse typify this plastic-gloves approach. The Weekly’s Neal Weaver called it “unadulterated Southern Gothic” that “verges on Grand Guignol,” and wrote with relief that “by the end we’re grateful that anyone survives.” Back Stage West’s Travis Michael Holder found it all a bit trite, speculating that a play “about backwoods folk who don't talk in tongues while maintaining an incestuous relationship with one of their immediate relatives” would “seem almost as novel as a storyline about non-whiny New Yorkers who weren't traumatized by overachieving parents or troubled priests who didn't diddle alter boys.” And in my Times review, I went all Miss Manners on the play’s characters, writing, “No one in this isolated, hardscrabble shack in the hills of North Carolina seems to know quite how to behave.” But we agreed that the performances, particularly lead Beth Grant’s, are outstanding, and that Jim Holmes’ “sculpted, unhurried” direction exhibits “care and commitment.” If only the show’s characters didn’t need so much commitment, we sensitive aesthetes seem to be saying.



Actually, Back Stage West’s Les Spindle was the only critic (on record at least) who held his nose through Oliver Hailey’s KITH AND KIN at the Hudson Guild in Hollywood. He found little to admire in Hailey’s “determinedly raunchy” and unredeeming script (to which he saw parallels in Del Shores’ work), or in Matt Kelley’s “flat-footed direction, plagued by sluggish pacing and tonal confusion.” At the Times, David Nichols conceded that while Hailey “overplays his expositional hand, his singular voice deflects [the play’s] Southern gothic excesses with brazen wit and bruised feeling,” calling the result a “specialized yet satisfying immorality play.” And the Weekly’s Steven Leigh Morris (who also noted the play’s affinity with Del Shores’ Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will?) saw K&K as “a poison-laced love letter to family,” with admittedly retrograde sexual attitudes but a “view of life [that] is sophisticated and deeply humane.” He also raved that “the performers are singularly charismatic, enveloping the room with a buzz of electricity.” Apparently not all of us critics are threatened by a little in-your-face down-home dysfunction.

Nov 24, 2004

One (More) Hand (Not) Clapping

Don Shirley chimes in on the non-L.A. Ovations, and more or less shares my pique. His money quote:

"Most productions have closed by the time they're up for Ovation Awards, so seldom is there any direct box-office benefit of an award. The larger goal of the Ovations is to raise the visibility of L.A. theater in general, which isn't accomplished when the most awards go to a revival in Riverside.

The Ovations are supposed to help unify and clarify the vast sprawl of the L.A. theatrical landscape. This year, the sprawl won."


Indeed--although I don't know if the answer, as he suggests, is raising the number of qualifying voters. The statistic in Don's story that blew me away: 75 Ovation voters saw La Bohème. Good to see the voters, like the rest of us, just love those comps.

Nov 23, 2004

The Tally...

Tired of looking through my Review of Reviews posts to find my sum-ups of each show? I decided to do a full list of brief critical summaries about everything that's currently running. If I missed any show that's been reviewed by more than one outlet, let me know (though some shows may count it a blessing that I haven't rehashed their notices here).

They're ranked in a roughly scientific order, but I'm open to suggestions. Consider it a guide to must-see theatre, consider it an ungodly mushing-together of several woefully subjective opinions, or consider it not at all.

But here it is.

EXITS AND ENTRANCES at the Fountain Theatre through Dec. 18. Four rave reviews (and probably more) for Athol Fugard’s memory play.

CAROLINE, OR CHANGE at the Ahmanson Theatre through Dec. 25.
Four raves, one mixed-positive, and one mixed-negative review. “A whompin’ American hymn: half gospel, half davening, an ode to despair and a prayer for deliverance.”

A VERY MERRY UNAUTHORIZED CHILDREN’S SCIENTOLOGY PAGEANT at the Powerhouse Theatre through Dec. 19. Four raves, one mixed-negative review. "A provocative mix of Christmas-pageant sincerity, Christopher Durang-like irony, and unexpected rage.”

LIKE A DOG ON LINOLEUM at the Elephant Asylum Theatre through Dec. 12. Three rave reviews for Leslie Jordan’s solo show. "House-shaking hilarity and heart-tugging candor.”

OUROBOROS at the Road Theatre through Dec. 18. Three rave reviews for Tom Jacobson’s play about couples on a spiritual quest in Italy. ”An enchanting metaphysical etude.”

A FLEA IN HER EAR at A Noise Within through Dec. 11. Two rave reviews and one mixed-positive for this production of Feydeau’s farce. “Dense with details and zipping along at an ever-accelerating pace.”

LETTING GO OF GOD at the Hudson Backstage through Dec. 19. Two raves and one mixed-positive review for Julia Sweeney’s solo show about losing her religion. “Brave, hilarious, and ultimately moving.”

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at A Noise Within through Dec. 3. Two raves and one mixed-positive review. ““A sumptuous, visually arresting production."

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES at Long Beach’s Edison Theatre through Dec. 11. Two rave reviews of the two-part epic. “Eminently stageworthy, even more so than at the much larger Taper.”

A CONSTANT STAR at the Laguna Playhouse through Dec. 4. One rave and two mixed-positive reviews for Tazewell Thompson play about activist Ida B. Wells. “Culturally enriching and… beautifully performed.”

THE LESSON at City Garage through Dec. 12. Three strongly positive reviews. “If you've never seen any Ionesco, this serves as a great introduction.”

MODERN DANCE FOR BEGINNERS at the Little Victory, indefinite run. Two strongly positive reviews for Sarah Phelps’ sex comedy. “An abbreviated La Ronde, with more laughs.”

BASIC TRAINING at THE 2nd Stage Theatre. Two strongly positive reviews and two mixed-positive reviews. ”Nonstop energy and world-class humor.”

DEALING WITH CLAIR at the Matrix Theatre through Dec. 19. Two strongly positive reviews and one mixed-positive review for Martin Crimp's mysterious drama. "A production that shames us, shakes us... makes us think.”

FOUR GUYS NAMED JOSE… AND UNA MUJER NAMED MARIA at International City Theatre through Nov. 28. Two strongly positive reviews and one mixed review for the Latin music revue. “An utterly alive medley of Latin-tinged songs”.

ROGER AND VANESSA at the Actors’ Gang El Centro space in Hollywood through Nov. 28. Two strongly positive reviews for Brett C. Leonard’s one-act about a bickering New York couple. “Crackles with bleak humor.”

THREE at Electric Lodge through Dec. 4. One rave and one positive review for Patricia Cotter’s new play about relationships. ”A fresh and tender comedy.”

LYDIE BREEZE at the Open Fist Theatre through Dec. 4. One rave, one mixed-positive review, and one negative review for John Guare’s period drama. ”A thick New England chowder of determinism and dysfunction.”

BOLD GIRLS at the Matrix Theatre through Dec. 17. One rave, one mixed-positive review, and one all-around mixed revie for Rona Munro's play about women in Belfast. “Artfully mingles the pedestrian and the profound… alternately wrenchingly funny and just plain wrenching.”

THE CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE at the Odyssey Theatre through Dec. 12. Two strongly positive reviews and one mixed-positive review for Manfred Karge’s epic play. “Simultaneously whimsical and gut-wrenching”

DOGEATERS at SIPA Performance Space in Filipinotown through Dec. 12. One strongly positive and two mixed-positive reviews for Jessica Hagedorn’s play. "Almost a historical circus… more Dos Passos than Brecht.”

THE CIRCLE at the Stella Adler Theatre through Dec. 18. One strongly positive review, one mixed-positive, and one mixed-negative for Shem Bitterman’s anguished post-Columbine drama. “A huge, almost unbearable concept… daring in execution, fierce in intention.”

AS VISHNU DREAMS at East West Players trhough Dec. 5. Three positive reviews and two mixed reviews. “A gripping interpretation… thoughtful, funny, and finally poignant dimensions.”

A PERFECT WEDDING at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Three mixed-positive reviews, one mixed-negative, one negative, and one rave for Chuck Mee’s new play. “Anarchy on autopilot”… “Alternately playful and ponderous.”

LIGHT at Theatre @ Boston Court. Three mixed-positive reviews for Jean Claude Van Itallie’s intellectual love triangle. “Engaging and evocative, if somewhat overwritten.”

MACHINAL at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Center through Dec. 11. Two mixed-positive reviews for Sophie Treadwell’s symbolic drama. “A strange and wonderful piece of Expressionistic theater that seems of-the-moment all over again.”

HYENAS, OR THE MONOLOGUE OF THEODORE-FREDERIC BENOIT at Stages Theatre Center. One mixed-positive review and two mixed reviews. A fascinating existential showpiece, though not without some discrepancies.”

2 ACROSS at the Santa Monica Playhouse through Dec. 19. One mixed-positive and one mixed-negative review. "Comically well-timed staging and two undemonstrative yet heartfelt performances.”

ANGEL STREET at Actors’ Co-op through Dec. 12. One mixed-positive review and two negative reviews for Patrick’s Hamilton’s thriller. “Doesn’t brake for subtleties.”

Review of Reviews, pre-Turkey Edition Finale

I’m on the home stretch of recent reviews, summed up for your delectation:

Back Stage West’s Paul Birchall added another critical bouquet to THE LESSON at Santa Monica’s City Garage, writing that this production of Ionesco’s power play “boasts unusually focused timing… with blocking that's choreographed to the slightest gesture and nuanced glance” under director Frederique Michel. He did find Michel’s climactic substitution of a Republican party armband (is there such a thing?) for the play’s usual Nazi swastika to be “a jarring, clumsy note,” but he concluded with the recommendation: “If you've never seen any Ionesco, this serves as a great introduction.”

The young Vs. Theatre Company, whose inaugural production of The Credeaux Canvas last year promised great things from the troupe, is back with another premiere, this of Londoner Sarah Phelps' sex comedy MODERN DANCE FOR BEGINNERS at the Little Victory in Burbank. The Times’ F. Kathleen Foley enjoyed it, dubbing it “an abbreviated La Ronde, with more laughs.” For all its “sparkling wit,” she did peg some of its “belabored turns” as rather TV-like, but wrote that “in his finely tuned staging, [director] Ross Kramer keeps the action meticulously realistic.” The Weekly’s Amy Nicholson was even more impressed, reading Phelps as “more passionate about psychological power plays than sweet passion… Her snapshot trysts spark with a tension that’s more animus than amorous.” Both critics praised leads Johnny Clark and Robyn Cohen, who play all the parts.

Garnering enthusiastic notices for its acting, writing, and direction is Brett C. Leonard’s ROGER AND VANESSA, in a rental production at the Actors’ Gang El Centro space in Hollywood. In her LA Weekly review, Sandra Ross wrote that the one-act about a bickering New York couple “crackles with bleak humor… made persuasive by [Silas Weir] Mitchell’s swift direction.” She also praised leads Jack Conley and Elizabeth Rodriguez, and Back Stage West’s Brad Schreiber went further, calling the actors “nothing less than electrifying.” He conceded that “Leonard's long one-act takes a predictable arc” but that the actors and director Mitchell are up for this “exciting theatrical challenge.”

Critics were taken with Patricia Cotter’s new relationship comedy, THREE at Venice’s (solar-powered) Electric Lodge. The Weekly’s Tom Provenzano praised the “uniformly excellent acting” and Michael Angel Stuno’s “agile directing,” but above all found that this look at three couples’ attempts to make the long-term thing last revealed a “remarkable new voice” in Cotter, whose “ear for contemporary dialogue combines with a keen understanding of her generation’s foibles and a sharp sense of humor to create a fresh and tender comedy.” (Apparently he didn’t see The Break-Up Notebook.) Back Stage West’s Paul Birchall agreed, writing that while some of Cotter’s writing “is founded on stereotype,” it nevertheless “displays a penetrating wisdom about human emotion.” In all he found director Stuno’s production “a tight and crisply timed balance of humor and pathos.”

Jerry Mayer’s romantic comedy 2 ACROSS at the Santa Monica Playhouse received kind if unenthusiastic reviews, with the Times’ F. Kathleen Foley calling it a “charming, character-driven comedy” with the benefit of director Deborah Harmon’s “comically well-timed staging and two undemonstrative yet heartfelt performances.” Back Stage West’s Paul Birchall agreed about the performers—but only in the sense that, as he wrote, their “appealing chemistry together [goes] a long way to ameliorating” the show’s “disappointingly empty” plot and its overall “routine TV sitcom” feel.

I came across two more reviews for the much-talked-about A VERY MERRY UNAUTHORIZED CHILDREN’S SCIENTOLOGY PAGEANT at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica, and they were a study in contrasts. The Daily News’ Evan Henerson gave the show the only diss I’ve seen in print and Variety’s Julio Martinez praised it even more highly than his colleagues. Henerson’s point: that Scientology and L. Ron are “easy targets” and the production’s self-conscious “shabbiness and cheer” do not a play make. Martinez, for his part, thought that “provocatively juxtaposing innocent revelry and weighty content” was the whole point, opining that the “perceived lack of artifice makes the production's indictment… that much more devastating.”

“Self-consciously wacky” and “unmemorably slight are two of the phrases critics used to describe Amy Freed’s FREEDOMLAND, and they weren’t much more impressed by the new production of the Pulitzer Prize-finalist play at Burbank’s Sidewalk Studio Theatre. In Back Stage West, Terry Morgan thought that “director David Barry does a creditable job” but couldn’t get past “the wildly variable quality of the play and a few slightly unsteady performances.” I was a little harsher in my LA Times review; to me it looked like “the kind of actor-showcase production typically reserved for routine desecrations of the works of Shepard or Shanley.”

And that’s all she wrote—this week, at least.

Nov 22, 2004

"Sweeney" Unplugged

"I knew it was about people grinding human bodies into meat pies, but I didn't know how gruesome it was."

So said one audience member as we left the New Ambassador Theatre where a cast of a dozen or so had just performed Sondheim's masterpiece Sweeney Todd in a stark chamber music staging. The Brechtian gimmick here, if you can call it that, is that all the actors (save the lead) play the score as well as sing and act it: Mrs. Lovett's on trumpet, Toby and the Judge on flute, the Beadle on bass, Johanna and Anthony on cello, and one woman who plays both Pirelli and Fogg plays a mean accordion. Strange as it sounds, it works astonishingly well, and affirms the work as one of the last century's greats--a standard of the opera repertory and, as this production proves, of the alternative musical theatre as well.

Hear it singing "yes."

Still More Review Reviews

A FLEA IN HER EAR at Glendale’s A Noise Within got its first mixed review, after a series of unanimous raves, from the LA Weekly’s persnickety Deborah Klugman. She opined that Feydeau’s farce contains “variously entangled subplots… [which,] when interpreted at their best, create a pricelessly antic portrayal of human foibles. Here, however, a number of key players rely heavily on the situation, the staging or the lines to garner their laughs. In neglecting their personal resources, they dilute the punch.” Whatever that means, exactly, she did praise the performances of Steve Weingartner, Richard Soto, and the universally praised Louis Lotorto.

The Weekly’s Erin Aubry Kaplan added her praise to the general plaudits for A CONSTANT STAR at the Laguna Playhouse, calling Tazewell Thompson’s play about early 20th century anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells a “heartfelt tribute that avoids being a hagiography, an unabashed message play that wears its faith boldly on its leg-o’-mutton sleeve but doesn’t preach… brash, illuminating and, yes, patriotic, in the best sense of that word.”

The Latin music revue FOUR GUYS NAMED JOSE… AND UNA MUJER NAMED MARIA at Long Beach’s International City Theatre got generally positive notices, though Variety’s Julio Martinez aired a major caveat: “The singers display an impressive understanding of the various genres,” he wrote, “but the accompanying trio is woefully inadequate when attempting the pulsating underscoring needed to communicate thee music of Prado, Puente, and Martin.” Back Stage West’s Madeleine Shaner and the Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Shirle Gottlieb were apparently unbothered by any such shortcomings, with Shaner raving that the show is a “an utterly alive medley of Latin-tinged songs” that “rocks the house as the audience is compelled to sway to the Latin rhythms,” and Gottlieb calling it “a warm-hearted crowd-pleaser that will send you home with a big smile on your face.” All three critics agreed, though, that Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer is the show’s highlight in what Martinez called a “comically endearing performance.”

Two more critics weighed in on Kahlil Ashanti’s solo show BASIC TRAINING, at the 2nd STage Theatre in Hollywood, and neither differs much from the consensus. In Variety, Joel Hirschhorn wrote that Ashanti “brings vitality to… material that ranges from fiery to overly familiar,” and that he “handles all 24 parts and makes them all distinctive.” He went on to offer this helpful career nod: “This confident magnetism will clearly work in film when he makes his inevitable motion picture debut.” The Times’ David C. Nichols agreed that the show is “a surefire showcase for its star,” and elaborated that Asanti’s “liquid mug, stand-up chops, emotional energy and physical courage… suggest the emerging John Leguizamo.” Nichols did qualify his praise, saying that the show’s “wholehearted narrative history just misses the revelation of self that would supply universal reach.”

Next: Only about a dozen more shows to sum up.

A Sigh for Cy

"The Rhythm Of Life is a powerful beat
Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet
Rhythm in your bedroom
Rhythm in the street
Yes, The Rhythm Of Life is a powerful beat"


Cy Coleman was a gentleman's composer, a uniquely eclectic voice in Broadway musicals. He started as a classical piano prodigy who got sick of the practice hours and discovered jazz, wrote standards for bands and pop singers in the 1950s, then got into writing musicals. Easily his best, and one of the coolest Broadway musicals not written by Kander and Ebb, is Sweet Charity.

I had the good fortune to interview Mr. Coleman last year in conjunction with the Taper's Like Jazz, and found him spry, witty, and urbane, a Bronx boy made good. Some gems from our interview:

Coleman's first musical was Wildcat, a vehicle for Lucille Ball, who, according to Coleman, had "a range of five notes. Then my reward was Little Me, for Sid Caesar--who has a range of four notes."

I asked him whether he'd been approached about doing a major Broadway revue of his hits, and he said he wasn't very interested: "A lot of these things happen because the composer goes after it. I'm just one of those people who don't want to go back and look at all that; it's over. I just keep moving and looking forward; it's my nature. People ask, 'What's your favorite song?' I say, 'The one I'm writing.' They get very disgusted with me."

He started playing supper clubs in his late teens. But he wasn't happy being background music: "They'd say, 'Cy, you're playing too loud, we can't talk!' And my answer was, 'If you didn't talk so loud, I wouldn't have to play so loud!' "

"I played Bop City opposite Ella Fitzgerald and Illinois Jacquet. Ella said nice things to me; she was a very sweet woman. I had to follow Illinois and her doing 'Flying Home'; I didn't even have a drum, I had guitars in my trio. And she said, 'Cy, calm down. You're never going to play louder than me and Illinois doing "Flying Home," so why don't you just cool it, do your thing? They'll come to you eventually.' It was sweet advice--the best advice I could have possibly gotten at that time."

On the writing process: "The minute you start, it's always too late. You can't have enough time. Now, that’s good and that's bad. But that's the way it is."

"People ask, 'When you see a beautiful sunset, do you go home write some wonderful thing?' I say, 'No, I'm more like Beethoven: opus 1, 2, 3, and 4.' But that's not true exactly; I'm affected by things, but it has to come into my blender and then it comes out.

"For example, in The Life, the duet at the end between the two girls, that's a killer. I was in Scotland looking at the fog and the ducks flying and a melody came to me. Now, it's a very raw, R&B kind of score, but I decided to use that melody; it had a very rural feeling. There was a purity there."

There was indeed.

Nov 21, 2004

More Remote Review Reviews

Still in London, near Bloomsbury. The sun goes down at around 2 p.m. but there's still plenty to until at least 11, when the pubs close. Caught a screening of Being Julia, which, apart from a bit of storytelling slack and one terrible performance in a minor role, is a surprisingly delicious backstager, with a breathtakingly vibrant but never self-indulgent lead performance by Annette Bening. The result is a bit like a starchy-Brit version of All About Eve.

I've found a bit of time to add some more to a very heavy batch of reviews accumulated over the weekend. Bear with me and I'll get to them all:

Three more reviews are in on the Cornerstone production of AS VISHNU DREAMS at Little Tokyo’s East West Players, and they continue in the mixed vein of previous appraisals. The LA Weekly’s Steven Mikulan thought adapter Shishir Kurup’s “bold gamble… pays off in an entertaining night of Indian storytelling, song, shadow puppetry and music, adroitly directed by Juliette Carrillo.” On the other hand, opined the Daily News’ Evan Henerson, the show “feels like a fable… brought handsomely but distantly to life”; he found Carrillo's production “a thing beauty” that nevertheless “comes across as neither contemporary nor especially vibrant.” In the positively neutral column was Terri Roberts’ assessment for Back Stage West, whose only non-descriptive passages were as followed: that the adaptation “manages to distill this sacred Hindu text down to its spiritual essence,” and that East Indian theatrical tradition is balanced with “a playful tone and modern humor, making the tale more accessible to present-day audiences.” If anyone else can figure out what Roberts really thinks of the play from her review, I’ll buy them a cigar.

Likewise, I’ve found two more takes on Chuck Mee’s A PERFECT WEDDING at the new Douglas Theatre in Culver City, and they keep the controversy, such as it is, alive. Pretty much agreeing with my conflicted take was Joel Hirschhorn of Variety, who felt that while the show “is the right kind of off-kilter vehicle for a theater dedicated to original, experimental works,” the “alternately playful and ponderous” work represents Mee “in second gear,” despite the efforts of an “impeccable cast.” The Weekly’s Judith Lewis saw what some would call the work’s shortcomings as strengths, writing that “there is no logical sense to be followed here, no meaning to be extracted bigger than love’s ubiquity and death’s finality,” and that the show “displays its multiculturalism so self-consciously that it pokes fun at the very notion of separateness.” There have been reports of an intermission exodus by some theatregoers; the Saturday matinee I saw was sold out with a mostly older crowd, and though the second-act audience wasn’t noticeably smaller than the pre-intermission crowd, there were some conspicuous walkouts during the first act. One came just as soon as the show’s first girl-girl kiss began, another at a moment that looked briefly as if four gay wedding planners were about to have their way with a young bride. The easily offended wouldn’t seem to be the Douglas’ natural constituency anyway, now would they?

Next: Oh, so much more.

Review of Reviews, the Remote Edition

I sit in the London flat of a dear friend as I write. But thanks to what George W. Bush calls “the Internets,” I’m still able to deliver my more-or-less weekly feature summing up reviews of Los Angeles theatre. Let me say it again: I’m in one of the purported capitals of world theatre, parsing words about the stages of Los Angeles.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. Without further ado:

The big opening of the week was, of course, the musical CAROLINE, OR CHANGE at Downtown’s Ahmanson Theatre. The show, with book by Tony Kushner, music Jeanine Tesori, and knockout lead performance by Tonya Pinkins, has critics reaching—possibly over-reaching—for their most exalted language. The Weekly’s Steven Leigh Morris called it “a whompin’ American hymn: half gospel, half davening, an ode to despair and a prayer for deliverance”; The Daily News’ Evan Henerson raved, “It is like no other musical you have ever seen or, likely, will ever experience… It's simply a challenging and important work that absolutely must be seen.” The Times’ Mark Swed, taking another of his increasingly frequent breaks from reviewing classical music, gave what for him is a rave (sometimes it’s hard to tell), calling Caroline an “important, big, meaningful musical not by Sondheim that demands your attention… that says, yes, the musical is not dead, has not been entirely consumed by a bloated, creativity-smothering, Disney-occupied, tourist-coddling culture of a no-longer-great Great White Way.” I was curious to see what Back Stage West’s Les Spindle thought, since he’s such a musical theatre aficionado; he was won over by what he called “a breathtakingly beautiful and cerebral blend of folk opera and kitchen-sink drama, bursting through its gritty milieu via exhilarating flights of surreal fantasy.” In my own Downtown News review, I called it “an astonishing feat of heartfelt hindsight” and “a full-service entertainment.” The Orange County Register’s Paul Hodgins sounded the only sour notes, complaining that the character of Caroline is entirely unsympathetic and furthermore that Kushner’s “imagery is overly freighted with metaphor, and his homages to other work, particularly Porgy and Bess, can seem like clumsy interpolations.” Still, even Hodgins was able to see that “when all its elements come together, Caroline, or Change can send shivers down your spine.” This is a miss-at-your-own-peril show, it seems. Turnout on opening night was shockingly porous, so I’d say you could “rush” ticket this one, except that these reviews may fill some of those empty seats. (And what was the “anti-Semitic outburst” a critical colleague of mine reported as marring that same opening night? I didn’t notice any, except the devastating one in the script.)

Next up: More on Vishnu and A Perfect Wedding.

Nov 19, 2004

A Sitting Ovation

Maybe the Los Angeles Stage Alliance, which until last year was Theatre LA, should consider another name change—say, to something like Greater Southland Theatres Who Are Members. Not very catchy, is it? But then neither is the garbled message sent by this year’s Ovation Awards: Among the big winners were the Rubicon Theatre of Ventura and Performance Riverside of, well, Riverside. Earth to the Los Angeles Stage Alliance: These no doubt fine companies are not even in Los Angeles County, let alone the city of Los Angeles.

I don’t begrudge these artists a single award for their apparently killer productions of All My Sons and 1776, respectively, which clearly a quorum of Ovation voters felt were more than worth the drive. But if one of the goals of the Ovation Awards is to promote a more coherent picture of theatre in Los Angeles—which already sprawls from Pasadena to the South Bay and all points in between, and is already hard to even conceptualize as one community—then how exactly is that mission served by extending the boundaries beyond any reasonable geographical definition of what can be called Los Angeles? While they’re at it, why not add Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Costa Mesa? Or Lost Hills, where I drove on a hot day this past summer to see the beautiful culminating production in Cornerstone’s first rural residency in more than decade?

Monday night’s Ovations show was full of such puzzles and contradictions. For there, at one point, was Cornerstone, receiving not an award for Waking Up in Lost Hills but instead collecting a long overdue special Community Outreach Award. Presenting was South Central resident Guillermo Aviles, who injected a bracing reminder of the real impact of theatre into the otherwise lightweight proceedings: “I’m here because Cornerstone saved my life.” Aviles had signed on during the troupe’s 18-month Watts residency with the play Los Faustinos, offering him the “life preserver of theatre” in a community in which, according to Aviles, the only hope for young people is “the military or sports, because the education system is moribund.” Cornerstone’s work, Aviles averred, is “a testament to how much can be accomplished when you empower people to live up to their full potential.” Founding artistic director Bill Rauch, who has spent a good part of this year directing projects outside of Cornerstone (at Yale Rep, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and South Coast Rep), then offered, in a form all the more powerful for its brevity, an encapsulation of the mission statement that makes Cornerstone such an inspiration to artists who may have lost track of why the heck they get up on a stage in the first place: “We believe that everyone is an artist… We believe that every work of art has the power to change the world, and theatre is the best rehearsal we know for that change.” (Somehow that sounds a little loftier than presenter Garry Marshall’s terse sum-up of Cornerstone’s work: “They go from town to town using the local people.”)

Other contradictions: The Buffalo Nights’ zippy production was among the most consistently fun awards show in memory, with the irrepressible Matt Walker appearing as the Ovation itself, in a white leotard, and a gaggle of old men—well, young men in bad bald wigs and makeup—chasing him across the stage in wheelchairs. Later, Eric Anderson from Performance Riverside’s Rocky Horror Show and David Engel from South Bay CLO’s La Cage Aux Folles trotted out in extravagant drag, flounced through a rendition of “Sisters,” and then managed to plant indelible drag-queen lipstick kisses on all the costume designers to whom they presented awards. A waggish, slightly mad tone pervaded the evening—a very welcome antidote to the unavoidable awards-show pall. And David O’s tight band was a treat, witty and smoking.

But somehow the evening felt a little sad, with a recurring theme of resignation—both in the literal and the emotional sense. Steve Glaudini, whose Performance Riverside production of 1776 swept the musical, larger theatre category, recently resigned from the helm of the company he’s run for five years; he’s now an agent as Kazarian Spencer Associates. Derek Livingston, who accepted the small-theatre musical award for the Celebration Theatre’s smash production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is leaving the artistic directorship of that theatre, too.

And perhaps the evening’s defining award presentation—the one that typified all that’s most distinctive, and most threatened, in L.A. theatre—was the James A. Doolittle Award for Leadership in Theatre. The L.A. Stage Alliance Board saw fit to honor Paula Holt, whose Tiffany Theatres shuttered two years ago. A more worthy candidate for this kind of career recognition you couldn’t find (and I’m relieved that the Ovations did a much classier job of paying her tribute than our Back Stage West Garlands did back in 2002, in a pitifully under-attended show at the Alex). But what does it say about the state of leadership in L.A. theatre that the Ovations would honor a woman who hasn’t produced a play in years? Presenter Susie Dietz tried to muster as much enthusiasm as possible for such current examples of Paula’s “leadership” as, “She continues to sit on that board,” and, “She’s developing a huge Broadway musical with Amanda McBroom,” but there remained in this tribute to a bygone era a whiff of the pathetic.

Maybe it was just post-election gloom. Indeed, Holt herself made a few such references in her acceptance speech: “If there’s anything we’ve learned in this post-election era,” she said (in an ominous turn of phrase, as if there won’t be any more elections), “it’s that there’s not only a culture that prevails, but there’s a very powerful counter-culture, as well. And you’re all part of that.” And, taking up the sort of theme that former LASA executive director Lee Wochner used to like to repeat, “California, this wonderful blue state, ranks dead last in arts funding per capita: It’s 3 cents a person. That’s lower than Mississippi.” (Am I the only one who found this presumptively pejorative invoking of a Deep Southern state to be a little, well, blue-statist?) She closed with the rather puzzling but crowd-pleasing, “I am grateful for all my years in the theatre, and for not being a Republican.”

Similarly worthy but considerably sunnier was Betty Garrett, who accepted a Life Achievement Award. She’s a classy old-school dame whose recording of “There’s a Small Hotel,” from the Rodgers & Hart anthology musical Words and Music. is a particular favorite of mine. She also trotted out an easy applause line, though more self-consciously: “My son says I should tell people my age: I’m 85.” The audience erupted in cheers, and Garrett deadpanned: “He was right—he said it would get me applause.”

Since we’re getting down to the quotes, herewith follows a sampling of some of the best, the worst, and the weirdest highlights of the evening:

Specificity is everything: “Have they suffered? You haven’t suffered until you’ve done a play at the Complex.” --Harry Harrison (Morgan Rusler), the Mr. Potter-esque geezer who busted in to give advice to the kids of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant at the show’s opening

And the children shall lead us: The opening number from A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant wasn’t the only example of youngsters winning our hearts. A group of kids from the La Bohème ensemble were about to be ushered dutifully off the stage when presenter Joanne Worley insisted, “Let the children say thank you!” They decorously marched forward and said polite thank-yous, but the priceless closer was a little girl who oozed attitude as she said, “Thank you Mom and Dad and Alice for actually coming.

Nice image: “I did this show because I needed to let my heart sing. Live theatre lets your heart sing.”
--Yvette Freeman, accepting for Dinah Was

Nice rationale: “This is for all of us but it’s going to stay at my house ’cause it’s so pretty.”
--Freeman again

Garry Marshallisms:
“They sat Gordon Davidson up there in the back. A guy retires and they send him straight to the back of the balcony.”
“There were 378 registered shows, and amazingly enough, 361 with only one person in them.”
About Carolyn Hennesy’s lovely, revealing dress: “Some dresses are slow-walking dresses. That’s a slow-walking dress.”

One actor to another: Morlan Higgins, accepting for his stunning lead performance in Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances, thanked his co-star William Dennis Hurley, “whose performance is an acting lesson every night.”

Odes to the Ovation:
“She’s a juicy piece of glass.”
--Harry Harrison, in an opening number set to Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”
“This is much more beautiful than any other award. I thought I was going to get a certificate or a plaque. (Kissing the statuette) I love you!”
--Betty Garrett, accepting a Life Achievement Award

Are there that many to go around?: Presenter Joanne Worley walked onstage with a red balloon and released it with the wish, “May you all win many, many Ovations.”

That cheeky announcer: Introducing presenter Julia Sweeney: “She’s the former SNL cast member who has made us laugh at androgyny and cancer.”

Random religiosity: Carolyn Hennesy, accepting a featured actress award for The Fan Maroo, “As Kiff (Scholl, the director) told me: Thank the baby Jesus.”

Milk it: “It’s hard to do this quickly, because you want this moment to last forever.”
--Gigi Bermingham, accepting a solo show award for Non-Vital Organs (redux)

Fly the freak flag high: Accepting the lighting design award for the Black Dahlia’s Nocturne, Mike Durst hopped up onstage in an oversized white suit, black sunglasses, and a sculpted Mohawk. His extremely brief acceptance speech began with a murmured question about whether the award would count for some drink tickets.

Philosophy of the theatre: “Playwrights are poets who got lonely.” --The Hope Davis-like Joy Gregory, accepting the world premiere musical award for The Shaggs, quoting a fellow playwright, Leon Martell

Props for the old rag: “This is totally unexpected—I read the Back Stage West article, didn’t you?”
--Gigi Bermingham, accepting a solo show award for Non-Vital Organs (redux); BSW’s Les Spindle had predicted Clinton Leupp’s Miss Coco Peru Is Undaunted “by a landslide”

Gaffe of the night: Presenting sound design awards, Paul Dooley announced the Boston Court’s Romeo and Juliet as the small-theatre winner. Then, after co-presenter Granville Van Dusen announced La Bohème for the larger theatre award, Dooley came back to the podium and said, “I forgot to announce a tie.” And then he promptly re-read the names of the sound designers from Romeo and Juliet and stood back as the band blared and the audience sat in mortified embarrassment until somebody called out, “Read the other one!” Dooley, chastened, obliged, and bestowed the second Ovation on Steve Goodie for Cold/Tender. Goodie ran to the stage and looked around, bewildered, and spoke for all of us: “What the hell just happened?”

Most puzzling attempt at a joke (we think): Dean Mora, music director of Amanda McBroom’s solo show Lady Macbeth Sings the Blues, quipped, “You have no idea how hard it was to teach Amanda the harmonies.”

Candor award: “I’m sorry, my buzz wore off before I got my award.”
--Alex Jaeger, accepting for costume design of Romeo & Juliet

First and only F word of the night: “Sandra Tsing Loh is such a fucking amazing inspiration!”
--Gigi Bermingham, about a fellow solo show nominee

Musical commentary: David O had some fun coming up with these, and we had fun identifying them. For sound design winners, the band played “Do You Hear What I Hear?” For the lead musical actress award, which went to Jill Van Velzer for 1776: “The Lady Is a Tramp.” For the lead musical actor award, which went to 1776’s Steve Glaudini: “Someday My Prince Will Come.” For Cornerstone’s Community award: “What a Wonderful World.”

All about me: Derek Livingston, accepting the small-theater award for the Celebration’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch: “I would thank my producer—which would be me. I would thank my artistic director—which would be me. I would thank my box-office staff—which would be me. I was washing fishnet stockings every week, and I’d be asking myself, Does Gordon Davidson do this?”

Thanks, I’ll be here all week: “I think the Diebold people are still in the back counting the votes, so I’m not sure I really won.”
--Martin Carrillo, sound designer for the Boston Court’s Romeo & Juliet

A sense of proportion: “I’d like to thank director Jessica Kubzansky, who on the way over said the traffic on Olympic was tragic—and then said that if a bomb were to fall on this building, it would be sad.”
--Jeff Goodie, accepting a sound design award Cold/Tender

Marty’s world: Marty Ingalls, co-presenting with his wife Shirley Jones, was a font of… a kind of humor. Like: “I’m a little hyper, I’m tripolar.” Or: “You know, there’s not one Jew on this list [of nominees]. That’s a violation in some states.” Or: “And the winneress is…”

Impromptu pop culture reference: Davis Gaines, co-presenting with Marissa Janet Winokur and Susan Egan, simply gestured to all three and proposed, “Three’s Company, the musical?” Susan piped in to clarify her part: “Joyce Dewitt.” Marissa chimed in: “They’d recast me.” And Davis shook his head: “Oh, Chrissy.”

Eternal mysteries: What was George Furth saying to the ASL interpreters before the show? Who is Morlan Higgins’ tailor? And why was Simon Levy, producing director of the Fountain, dressed in a morning coat and cravat?

Are we bitter?: Giving out a musical actress award, presenter Jason Graae went off script to quip: “Oh my God, it’s a write-in: David Engel won again!” And then, offering a self-critique: “That’s so inside it gives me gas.”

Drollery #1: “You may remember me, I went under the screen name of Irene Dunne.”
--Presenter Orson Bean

Drollery #2: “I only use these for reading. And walking.”
--presenter Paul Dooley, referring to his glasses

Drollery #3: “What hasn’t been said about sound?”
--Cold/Tender sound designer Jeff Goodie

Drollery #4: Presenter Marissa Janet Winokur, reading off the nominees for touring productions, all at the Ahmanson Theatre: First there was the Little Shop of Horrors, then Phantom of the Opera, “produced by the same people and some others.” And then Thoroughly Modern Millie, produced “by the same people and a few different people… Whoever wins, I’m sure these people will be very happy.”

Complaint as joke: A cast member of Caught in the Net at International City Theatre referred to the Long Beach company “as the Carpool Rep Company.”

Overstated absurdity watch: The offstage announcer made a little too much of the strangeness of juxtaposing lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick, Geffen Theatre artistic director Randall Arney, and Laugh-In nutjob Joanne Worley. Yeah… and?

The man with the power over time and space: John Ballinger, who wielded a mean triangle when speeches went too long.

Nov 18, 2004

It Was Either Him or Joel Schumacher

So the director of Mrs. Doubtfire has landed the coveted task of bringing Jonathan Larsen's so-so boho ode Rent to a multiplex near you. Is anyone else thinking what I'm thinking for the role of filmmaker Mark? (Anthony Rapp--who coincidentally appeared in the directorial debut of the same auteur--will reprise his Broadway performance for the film.) God, I just hope it lives up to Columbus' lofty aesthetic standards.

Nov 17, 2004

Just the Facts

I haven't had a chance yet to post my thoughts on the Ovations, but I can at least deliver this news: a complete list of the winners. (You can also go here.)

WORLD PREMIERE PLAY: Exits and Entrances, Athol Fugard, Fountain Theatre

WORLD PREMIERE MUSICAL: The Shaggs: The Philosophy of the World, Joy Gregory and Gunnar Madsen, Powerhouse Theatre Company at Inside the Ford, with Andrew Barrett-Weiss and Tess Skorczewski

PRODUCTION FROM A TOURING COMPANY: The Phantom of the Opera, Center Theatre Group: Ahmanson Theatre, Cameron Mackintosh, and Really Useful Theatre Company, Inc.

PLAY (SMALLER THEATRE): Master Class, Fountain Theatre

PLAY (LARGER THEATRE): All My Sons, Rubicon Theatre Company

FRANKLIN R. LEVY MEMORIAL AWARD FOR MUSICAL IN A SMALLER THEATRE: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Celebration Theatre

MUSICAL (LARGER THEATRE): 1776, Performance Riverside

DIRECTOR OF A PLAY (three-way tie): Ray Cooney, Caught in the Net, International City Theatre; Stephen Sachs, Exits and Entrances, Fountain Theatre; Daniel Sullivan, Intimate Apparel, Center Theatre Group: Mark Taper Forum and The Roundabout Theatre Company

DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL: Nick DeGruccio, 1776, Performance Riverside

CHOREOGRAPHY: Dana Solimando, Swing!, Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities

MUSICAL DIRECTION: Dean Mora, Lady Macbeth Sings the Blues, Rubicon Theatre Company

LEAD ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Viola Davis, Intimate Apparel, Center Theatre Group: Mark Taper Forum and The Roundabout Theatre Company

LEAD ACTOR IN A PLAY: Morlan Higgins, Exits and Entrances, Fountain Theatre

LEAD ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Yvette Freeman, Dinah Was, International City Theatre

LEAD ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Steve Glaudini, 1776, Performance Riverside

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Carolyn Hennesy, The Fan Maroo, Theatre of NOTE

FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY: Joseph Fuqua, All My Sons, Rubicon Theatre Company

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Jill Van Velzer, 1776, Performance Riverside

FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Nils Anderson, 1776, Performance Riverside

RAY STRICKLYN MEMORIAL AWARD FOR SOLO PERFORMANCE: Gigi Bermingham, Non-Vital Organs (redux), Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE (tie): The cast of La Bohème,, Center Theatre Group: Ahmanson Theatre AND the cast of Caught in the Net, International City Theatre

SET DESIGN (SMALLER THEATRE): Joel Daavid, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, RKA Productions in association with Sam Pink's Red Cat Jazz Cafe and Elephant Stageworks

SET DESIGN (LARGER THEATRE): Catherine Martin, La Bohème, Center Theatre Group: Ahmanson Theatre

LIGHTING DESIGN (SMALLER THEATRE): Mike Durst, Nocturne, Black Dahlia Theatre

LIGHTING DESIGN (LARGER THEATRE): Nigel Levings, La Bohème, Center Theatre Group: Ahmanson Theatre

SOUND DESIGN (SMALLER THEATRE) (tie): Steve Goodie, Cold/Tender, The Theatre @ Boston Court AND Julie Ferrin, Martin Carrillo, Paul Hepker, Romeo and Juliet: Antebellum New Orleans, 1836, The Theatre @ Boston Court

SOUND DESIGN (LARGER THEATRE): Acme Sound Partners, La Bohème, Center Theatre Group: Ahmanson Theatre

COSTUME DESIGN (SMALLER THEATRE) (tie): Alex Jaeger, Romeo & Juliet: Antebellum New Orleans, 1836, the Theatre @ Boston Court AND A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, The Devils, Open Fist Theatre Company

COSTUME DESIGN (LARGER THEATRE): Catherine Zuber, Intimate Apparel, Center Theatre Group: Mark Taper Forum and The Roundabout Theatre Company

James A. Doolittle Award for Leadership in the Theatre: Paula Holt

The Career Achievement Award: Betty Garrett

Community Outreach Award: Cornerstone Theater Company

Nov 16, 2004

Sweet "Caroline"



Further proof, if proof were needed, that Broadway is a musty museum: When I saw the vibrant, stirring musical Caroline, or Change there last spring, it seemed out of place. Indeed, it seemed to come off a little pretentious, a little tenuous, as if book writer Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori were tweaking musical theatre orthodoxy out of a mix of snobbery and ignorance. It felt as if they were saying: We don’t know how this is done but we don’t care because we have important things to say with our musical. I admit that I had a mixed reaction to it, personally—I was alternately moved and reserved about its mix of anger and ebullience. But solidifying the impression that this was dangerous musical theatre heresy was a loudmouth show queen in an adjoining seat, who popped up after the show and announced to a friend, and everyone in earshot, that it was the worst musical he’d seen in years. “Give me a tune, anything!” he said, and said again and again, in various ways, on the slow shuffle out the door.

What is affirmed on second viewing, in the new production at the Ahmanson Theatre (which apart from some youngsters is the same show, with an identical cast, as in New York), is that, freed from the straitjacket of Broadway expectations, Caroline, or Change is a serious contender in the Great American Musical sweepstakes. It's the best new American musical since Ragtime, at least, and perahps not coincidentally it also addresses the terrible American legacy of racism, but with the kind of complicated, soulful blend of provocation and pleasure that is the signature of playwright Tony Kushner. I'll consider Homebody/Kabul a forgiveable transgression--a noble attempt that no one close to Kushner apparently had the heart or the stones to edit or challenge--and point to Caroline, or Change as a hopeful sign that Kushner remains one of our essential storytellers.

And if the experience of my plus-one for the show is any indication, this is also a musical for people who don't usually like musicals. Let the Broadway babies have their way. Caroline is here to stay.

3,000 Words

If a picture's worth a thousand of 'em, here are 3 early reports from tonight's Ovation Awards, which favored Hollywood's Fountain Theatre--and Performance Riverside, in the 909. Hmmm...


So sue me, it's a cheap camera phone.



Did the hallucinogenic fresnels or whatever you call them.


Fine eating establishments abound nearby.


Coming soon... a full post on what one awards show clown described as "three hours of my life I'll never get back."

Nov 15, 2004

Standing on Ceremony

The Kirk Douglas Theatre is a jewel in the crowd—a real destination in the midst of the fairly bustling and benign Culver City. I used to drive by that old Culver moviehouse when I had a job running errands around there, and it’s heartening for the preservation-minded that it’s retained that giant vertical “CULVER” signage on top. And it’s truly lovely inside, with a cozy, intent proscenium layout and a pleasingly vast stage that seems as deep as it is tall and wide. I would almost recommend seeing the show that’s opened there just to get a glimpse of it.

Or maybe not. The play that inaugurates the space is Chuck Mee’s A PERFECT WEDDING, and on so many levels it’s a bold, encouraging, ambitious choice. The huge cast is like a cross section of L.A. theatre talent from some of the town’s best ensemble companies, as well regional theatre familiars and semi-names. Bart DeLorenzo of the Evidence Room is the only other impresario in town I can think of who would have the taste and pull to put together such a cast—and, not coincidentally, many in the cast are ER alumni (and two, John Fleck and Leo Marks, are veterans of Mee plays there; Marks points out in his bio that this is his third, and Fleck of course was the morally ambidextrous Heiner Müller in ER’s triumphant THE BERLIN CIRCLE in 2000). And the play is a hearteningly multi-culti celebration of all the good things we value in these blue states: love, community, tolerance, sexual freedom.

Unfortunately in this case the designation “play” is generous. Mee’s way of making plays is always eclectic, demotic, and engaging; at his best he wears his questing intelligence lightly and retains a gift for playful effrontery. He has real wit not just as a wordsmith but as a theatrical writer—which is not the same as saying he has a particularly sturdy dramaturgical craft. His best works--Berlin Circle, Big Love--are high-wire acts that on the page “shouldn’t” work at all (a paradox that’s also often true of two 20th century writers Mee evokes, Chekhov and Brecht). The downside of this approach, especially at the rate Mee has been turning out plays, is that if he doesn’t keep all these balls in the air, the showmanship starts to look like shtick. That’s the case with too much of Wedding, which trots out a grab bag of Mee tricks—references and appropriations to classic texts, open and often provocative philosophizing, musical numbers, unexpected jokes buried in the darkest drama and vice versa, startling shifts in tone, passionate frenzy. These are all present in his best work (the aforementioned two), his good work (the underrated Summertime, at the Boston Court earlier this year), and his mediocrities (Imperialists at the Club Cave Canem, which despite its lively production at the Evidence Room is just a series of dialogues, not a play, or his adaptations of The Oresteia and The Trojan Women, cobbled together into an ungainly evening of torture by mad hatter Matt Wilder at the Open Fist under the title Songs of Joy and Destitution in early 2003).

A Perfect Wedding is regrettably in the latter category. There are some lovely scenes and monologues here, and some pleasingly cheesy twists, but there are too many duds: a pitiful duet for two gravediggers, a series of full-cast scenes in which everyone pitches in their two cents, unbidden, in a sort of round-robin forum, and too many forced extremes in both directions, zany and somber. This is what my colleague Evan Henerson at The Daily News, in a review that refreshingly dissents from the generally positive consensus so far, aptly refers to as “anarchy on autopilot.” It reminds me of the way Robert Altman, a great American artist with a similarly chaotic, shoot-from-the-hip aesthetic, seems equally capable of masterpieces and utter dreck; it would seem to be an occupational hazard of working this way.

I was actually relieved when, about 20 minutes into a faltering second act, Mee just gave up on the play and delivered the wedding party the cast, and we, all came for. The climax and highlight is a vibrant dance number featuring Fleck and Jim Anzide as romantic leads lip-synching to “Chunari Chunari” from Monsoon Wedding while the cast does an engaging half-time-show version of a Bollywood dance number. (My familiarity with the song only made this sweeter, as I anticipated the entrance of the male voice, play-acted pricelessly by Anzide, after delighting in Fleck’s mincing take on the female part.) And I was moved by Leo Marks’ turn as the loser in the Midsummer-inspired lovers’ exchange—as much by his vulnerable performance as by his mere presence in these proceedings.

Indeed, just about everything about this kick-off production is inspiring in terms of where this new theatre’s aesthetic heart is. As someone who’s witnessed with a fair degree of heartbreak the hit-and-miss efforts at the Mark Taper Forum over the years, and after following many of the Taper’s more adventurous non-mainstage spinoffs—the New Works Festival and Taper, Too—I can’t overstate how significant this is. It means the Center Theatre Group gets it; it means that when Gordon Davidson’s often sluggish organization is freed a bit from the huge responsibility of programming at the Taper and the Ahmanson, the company is really going to go for it and program a real alternative on its second stage.

This sense of christening, of sending the good ship Douglas off on the right journey, is finally about all Perfect Wedding has to offer. A play about ceremonies that mark our lives, it’s ultimately a ceremonial offering itself. That’s not nothing, but it might not be worth a $40 ticket.

Review of Reviews Catch-Up

It strikes me that I’d get much further ahead of the ball if I did these round-ups in pieces, a few shows at a time, then republish the entire list on, say, a Wednesday or Thursday before a given weekend, as a sort of guide for the weekend. But then, I know that only critics plan their review schedule for a given weekend a few days before it hits—at the Times, we stringers do, at least.

However I slice it, I hope it’s helpful. Here are a few reviews I wasn’t able to get to until now.

Adding another mixed-positive review to the consensus about the world premiere of Jean Claude Van Itallie’s LIGHT at Pasadena’s Theatre @ Boston Court was Back Stage West’s Hoyt Hilsman, who agreed with his peers that it’s “engaging and evocative, if somewhat overwritten,” singling out a “climactic moment of emotional power and intellectual truth” and praising the “deft direction of Jessica Kubzansky and the nuanced performances of a talented cast.”

Early 20th-century African-American activist Ida B. Wells is the subject of Tazewell Thompson’s “play with music” CONSTANT STAR at the Laguna Playhouse. Critics were generally impressed and informed, with some reservations. Back Stage West’s Melinda Schupmann called it “culturally enriching and… beautifully performed” and called the performances “often riveting,” but found the “patchwork nature of the script” too “scattershot.” The Times’ Don Shirley didn’t disagree, writing that “Thompson is less interested in a methodical biography than he is in evoking the passions that motivated Wells' activism,” but felt that the a cappella spirituals that link the scenes “are the play's salvation… unfailingly moving and performed to perfection.”

A new production of Sophie Treadwell’s cautionary 1928 drama MACHINAL at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Center in West Hollywood impressed the two critics who have weighed in, though they varied in their enthusiasm. At the Times, Daryl H. Miller marvelled that this “strange and wonderful piece of Expressionistic theater… seems of-the-moment all over again,” noting the way the show’s aperture-like design “conveys a powerful sense of claustrophobia.” He did wonder if perhaps the show was “a bit too concept-heavy for its own good,” though he mused that this may make it “ready-made for an experimental showcase such as CalArts' REDCAT space,” adding that most of the participants in the young Blank-the-Dog theatre company are CalArts grads. Steven Leigh Morris at the Weekly quibbled that “not much effort was made to get the ensemble’s hair and wardrobe right, and the furniture is from various decades,” but conceded that director Nataki Garrett’s “riveting staging” and the “intense performance” of lead actress Amanda Maria Lorca, “help us forget about the anachronistic production elements.”

Shishir Kurup’s lavish adaptation of the Ramayana, AS VISHNU DREAMS at Little Tokyo’s East West Players, resonated strongly with the Times’ Don Shirley, who called it “a gripping interpretation” with “thoughtful, funny, and finally poignant dimensions.” His closer summed it up unequivocally: “[Director Juliette] Carrillo’s blending of the story’s far-flung elements is masterful. The cast has no weak links. As Vishnu Dreams is wide-awake theater.” In my review for the Downtown News, I was more equivocal about this co-production with Cornerstone Theater Company as part of its “faith-based” cycle of plays: I thought Kurup hammers the Iraq analogies “a little too insistently,” and that while his humanization of the story’s villain, Ravana, does lend the tale complicated tragic dimensions “reminiscent of the Greeks or Shakespeare,” he hasn’t allowed the story’s hero, Rama, commensurate depth. I found the show’s second act a “drawn-out roundelay of flash-forward, exposition and speechifying confrontation.” I enjoyed Lynn Jeffries’ spectacular shadow puppetry and Chris Acebo’s gorgeous, elemental set. But I had to wonder what this “hectoring and heterodox” take on a founding text of Hinduism has to do with Cornerstone’s ostensible community-building mission.

I’ll confess that I’d never seen a production of Harnick and Bock’s SHE LOVES ME, the 1963 musical based on the same Hungarian play that inspired one of the great films of all time, The Shop Around the Corner. I admire Bock and Harnick—particularly Fiddler and Fiorello--but this quaint confection left me cold. In my Times review of Musical Theatre West’s new production at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts in Long Beach, I found it “remarkably resistible” even if director Jamie Rocco’s production is “faultless” and “well-cast.” Perhaps, though, I should defer to my colleague Les Spindle, an aficionado of the show, who raved in Back Stage West that the show’s “durable virtues are quite evident” in this “greatly satisfying” revival, “despite some glitches,” which he pegged mainly as a slightly “sluggish” pace in the first act. He raved about leads John Bisom and Teri Bibb and closed rosily: “This holiday-themed confection is like finding a heart-shaped box of scrumptious bon-bons under your Christmas tree.” (Maybe that’s the problem: I always preferred those Dutch butter cookies.) For her part, Long Beach Press-Telegram's Alessandra Djurklou admitted that in the wrong hands, this "charmingly old-fashioned... fluffy and sweet" show "could pretty much become dreck," but that the MTW folks "do it justice." (I will add here that my trip to the Carpenter Center was greatly enhanced by the Karen-and-Richard retrospective in the lobby. They’ve even got Karen’s Ludwig drum set on display!)

Reviving the critical divide over NoHo Arts Center’s musical DORIAN were two reviews I came across recently. In the plus column was Jay Reiner’s at the The Hollywood Reporter, which found it “exciting,” with an “outstanding cast,” and though he conceded that the adaptation is “admirable for its refusal to compromise the dark story and complex themes… the writing feels a bit awkward and overstated in the latter stages.” With some retouching, Reiner thinks this portrait of Dorian “could be on its way to an eternal life of its own.” Offering a wildly dissenting opinion was the Daily News’ Katherine Karlin, who wrote that James J. Mellon’s psychologizing of the Oscar Wilde novel amounted to Dorian Gray as told by Dr. Phil.” She found much of the story implausible and the “stock Creole” characters offensive, though she wrote that among “a large, talented cast [struggling] gamely… only Armelia McQueen manages to rise above the material.”

Back Stage West’s Dink O’Neal chimed into the negative chorus dissing R.S. Call’s story about a pedophile priest, DAMAGES at the Hudson Mainstage in Hollywood. O’Neal called it a “long-winded liturgical mishmash” with “almost universally sophomoric acting,” save James Storm’s “deviously intervening monsignor.” The Catholic church has a lot to answer for—its abuse scandal has spawned mostly terrible plays (though my colleagues have raved about Dakin Matthews’ PRINCE OF L.A and theatre maven Ravi Narasimhan points to Celtic Arts Center’s LEPERS OF BAILE BASTE, which ran in the fall of 2003, as the “best by far in the church abuse sweepstakes”).