Be Very Afraid… of Virginia Woolf @ the Geffen

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, now in its run at the Geffen Playhouse, is best denoted by its classic singsong parody of the childhood tune, ‘who’s afraid of the big bad wolf.’ Much like Tom Perotta’s bestselling 2003 novel, “Little Children,” this melodramatic play is about adults who act more like children in their vain attempt to get along with each other. Martha is played brilliantly by Calista Flockhart, who’s come a long way baby, from her comedic role in Ally McBeal. Flockhart reminds one of (and perhaps even one-ups) the iconic actress Elizabeth Taylor, who portrayed Martha in the film version. George, also stunningly portrayed by Zachary Quinto, brings quickly to mind, the disheveled Richard Burton. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were married and endured a stormy relationship, which proves the tried and true expression of art imitating life. How much more depth of talent Calista Flockhart shows in portraying an angry, disillusioned wife, when in real life, she’s securely and happily involved with long time love interest, Harrison Ford. This story by the late, great playwright, Edward Albee, is arguably one of his most masterful creations, and proves how extremely adept and astute he was in delving into his characters’ psyches. If one were to compare it to “Zoo Story,” it’s quite apparent that Jerry is very much a broken character, who attacks Peter, in much the same way that George and Martha attack each other. Each adult tries to protect the inner child within, bruised and broken, to no avail. Albee’s vivid depiction of living life on the edge is quite relevant to today’s world, in which our covid impacted generation is befuddled by the stark, horrendous, and ear ringing words of Rodney King, “why can’t we just get along?” What makes it even more powerful and frightening is Martha’s willingness to disparage and belittle George as an incompetent husband, in front of soft spoken, unsuspecting guests, Honey (Aimee Carrero) and Nick (Graham Phillips). The two couples are perfect contrasts to each other, yet the younger couple seem intrigued, mesmerized, and refuse to leave the scene, even at its most volatile. Layers upon layers of insults and mean spirited words are strewn amidst the stage, revealing how cruel are the games adults can play.

Through May 29th

http://www.Geffen playhouse.org

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Hadestown… A Helluva Show , @ the Ahmanson

In Hadestown, loosely adapted from the characters in Greek mythology, Orpheus (son of a muse), portrayed by Nicholas Barasch, and Eurydice , (Morgan Siobhan Green), hope does indeed prevail, despite the show’s grim depiction of life in the underworld, led by the commanding, mesmerizing leader Hades(Kevyn Morrow). The set( Rachel Hauck), lighting design ( Bradley King), inventive songs(Anais Mitchell), choreography (David Neumann/ Katie Rose McLaughlin), costumes (Michael Krass), and overall aura of this national touring production clearly shows how Hadestown garnered accolades and multiple nominations and wins in the 73rd Tony Awards Ceremony. The musical is a fresh look at a mix of mythology, romance, and psycho-social interactions, with a 1930’s New Orleans French Quarter jazz vibe, and is accompanied by a full scale, R&B live jazz band, perhaps the highlight of the entire show. When one first sets eyes on this show, from the very first opening number, “Road to Hell,” led by Hermes (Levi Kreis) and company, the magic, mystical, haunting energy is felt instantly. Anais Mitchell (lyricist) and Rachel Chavkin (director) are truly trailblazing theatrical artists of our time, and Los Angeles musical theatre enthusiasts are privileged to have the opportunity to see this show. The legendary tales of gods and goddesses Orpheus, Eurydice, Persephone, ( Kimberly Marable) Hades, Hermes, and the Fates (Belen Moyano, Bex Odoriso,Shea Renne), are brought to vibrant life onstage, despite a dark, gloomy underworld lurking. A medley of jazz and blues genres are presented through an array of numbers, one seemingly better than the next, including standouts, such as “Any Way the Wind Blows,” “Livin’ it Up on Top,” “Nothing Changes,” and the forever melodic, iconic “Wait For Me.” The show’s themes, and songs, perfectly reveal the messages of unrequited love, pain and torture, and tragedy with a beat.

With charisma, class, and ultimate swagger, narrator/storyteller Levi Kreis, as Hermes, graces the stage, singing, dancing, and sharing the plights of his fellow characters, guaranteed to make us laugh and cry, reflecting on times and places of a world far away from the modern one we know, yet with timeless stories and lessons that still resonate today. After the show, one audience member beside me, exclaimed “no words!”

Hadestown has that steamy, sizzling effect.

http://www.centertheatregroup.org

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A Bravura Performance…in “Blues For An Alabama Sky”

Blues For An Alabama Sky” stirs soulfully at the Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum.

Phylicia Rashad directs a very talented cast, who all shine in a riveting picture of 1930’s Harlem. From the fabulous, creative mind of Pearl Cleage comes this show, that, although set in the 1930’s, is still relevant today, and cannot be extolled enough. Many aspects of the story and dialogue style reveal the influence of the great Tennessee Williams , where all five actors (Joe Holt; Nija Okoro; Dennis Pearson; Greg Alvarez Reid; and Kim Steele portray their characters impeccably, making up a close knit ensemble whose lives are disrupted by an Alabama stranger in their midst. Scenic designer John Iacovelli proves his stellar reputation with a set that brings the era to life onstage. This show was first presented in Atlanta’s regional theatres in 1995, going on to New York; and over its 27 year existence, has been an iconic story with references to many legendary figures, such as Josephine Baker and Langston Hughes. “Blues for an Alabama Sky” takes place in two neighboring Brooklyn apartments, with Angel (Nija Okoro), experiencing the daily shuffle of life as an aspiring nightclub singer, recently fired from her gig. We see the kind, empathic dreamer, Guy (Greg Alvarez Reid), with hopes of his own to design clothes, as, in reality he assists his struggling neighbor Angel. Each character naturally evolves into each others’ lives, as one by one, they reveal their inner, ‘back stories.’ It is a tale of struggling artists, and more essentially, human beings, each enmeshed in this familiar neighborhood of friends. Delia (Steele) is an idealistic social worker with hopes of setting up Harlem’s first family planning clinic with doctor Sam (Holt). Meanwhile, Angel and Guy waft dreamlike of a more colorful life in Paris, living out their creative dreams and pursuits. The natural rapport and chemistry between the five characters is charming and palpable, as the audience finds itself naturally reveling in their trials and tribulations throughout the show. This is yet another top notch production that will not disappoint. ‘Blues For an Alabama Sky” is a lyrical, amusing, and timely reverie.

Through May 8th

http://www.center theatre group.org

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Holland Taylor Carries the Show in “Ann,” @ Pasadena Playhouse

Following the exquisite performance of “Ann,” at the Pasadena Playhouse, a fellow theatre goer commented to me, “it’s amazing the amount of dialogue Holland Taylor holds in her brain,” in her portrayal of the flamboyant and at times, irreverent Texas governor, Ann Richards. Just as Jim Bailey devoted his career to impersonating Judy Garland, Taylor impeccably channels Ann Richards. She explains some of Richards’ backstory to the audience, stating, that her father often told her as a young girl, “Ann, you could do anything you want to do in your life.” It is clear that she took these words to heart and ran with them, deciding to run for office and becoming a most popular and cherished democratic governor of Texas, setting a standard as a role model for women of future generations. The live theatrical stage show was an intelligent political drama come to life, exploring the inner workings of government, much like the long running television series, the West Wing. Written by and starring Holland Taylor, and directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein, Ann is a stellar production, and it is clear that this autobiographical tribute was well researched and the public deserves to know about this remarkable woman. Although she only served one term, and she died too soon, her legacy lives forever, and now her wit has become known as well, through this phenomenal show. From watching Ann, I’ve learned that Ann Richards was a true heroine, a rockstar, a log of energy, a devoted mother, and a Texas legend in her own right. Holland Taylor, through her precise mannerisms, and physical humor, had the onstage presence to portray this larger than life figure. “Ann” is a lasting tribute, a living memorial, and Holland Taylor does her proud. This shining star of Texas, standing at the side of the Texas flag in her office setting, has the audience laughing and crying throughout the show, thanks to Holland Taylor’s wide gamut of emotions, deserving of all accolades bestowed upon her. A one woman show at its finest.

Through April 24th

http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

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Red, White & Blue Meets Blue & and White @ The Braid

“Star Spangled Sabra,” a production of the Braid, had its world premiere, March 2022. Directed by Susan Morganstern, produced by Ronda Spinak, and co-produced by Sharon Landau, Star Spangled Sabra is tough on the outside and soft and sensitive in the inside, much like the sabra fruit itself. Each vignette throws a powerful punch about adjusting to life in the states with shocking yet delicate honesty, bringing consciousness and awareness of a newcomer’s plight transition into a whole new culture and way of life. One particular story of note, was “Lost in Translation,” written by Sharon Landau and performed by Rosie Moss and Meitar Paz. The scenario gives a whole new meaning to the term, “open house,” in the real estate lingo. In “You Are One of Us,” written by Michael Kagan, and performed by Jordan Bielsky and Lisa Ann Grant, the theme of ‘American Israeli’ or ‘Israeli American’ is even further explored, proving that one is proud to be both. In “Reclaiming What Was Lost,” written by Rabbi Professor Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, Lisa Ann Grant portrays how this heroic woman lives out her dream of ‘having it all,’ a career and family life, as the Talmud states, man/woman plans and God laughs. What is consistent throughout each story is how each actor spoke the written words so emphatically and credibly, as if the stories told were truly their own. During the post show q& a, Meitar Paz stated “the emotion you saw is real.” To achieve such emotion in each story, The Braid was impeccable in its casting choices. This show is truly a noble, honest work of art, full of star spangled drama and humor. This show recounts nineteen heartfelt stories from super bowl parties to the American Bar Mitzvah to homecoming, and patience while standing in line, through a series of brilliant vignettes and soliloquies. This amazing ensemble (Jordan Bielsky, Roni Geva, Rosie Moss, Meitar Paz, and Lisa Ann Grant) infuses their roles with a raw intensity of personal experience that illuminates enduring truths. Their personal, heartfelt stories deal with unique situations of adjusting to a new land, a new life, a new beginning, yet forever holding their homeland of Israel, near and dear. With hard edged and gritty subject matter, combined with soft and sentimental moments, “Star Spangled Sabra” lives up to its name, and the Braid lives up to its stellar reputation as the finest Los Angeles offers.

http://www.the-braid.org

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Mother and Daughter Reunion…in “Alma” @ the Kirk Douglas

The question of achieving the American dream comes to life onstage in “Alma” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. Benjamin Benne’s latest masterpiece is a true gem, delving into the title character, Alma’s (Cheryl Umana) hopes and dreams for her first generation daughter Angel (Sabrina Fest), to have a better life in America, and to ultimately achieve the all important American dream. Directed by Juliette Carrillo, Alma is an inspiring, sensitive, at times, funny, astute look at the lives of a mother and teenage daughter, filled with all the angst and tension of being immigrants in America. Despite their continuous concerns of ICE knocking on the door to amid the tense political climate of the era, the show focuses on their relationship and all the human, raw emotions that ensue. One particular memorable scene is when mother and daughter nostalgically reminisce about a nursery song about an elephant, only to suddenly change the tone of closeness and love to intense fear, anger, and worry, where the two chase each other around the modest set (living room), until finally settling down once again. The tension and drama is palpable amongst the audience throughout the show. High school matriculation, SAT testing, and the college application process are stressful enough to every American household, but when the threat of deportation looms high, and the daughter considers working rather than continuing her education, the emotional tension escalates. Each actress portrays this nervous energy impeccably.

Writer Benjamin Benne captures both the politically urgent setting and the personal family unit situation in one, proving that Alma’s storyline is both individual and universal. Alma is at its best and most endearing when the two grapple with their own individual needs and agendas, yet never let go of the eternal strong bond holding them close. This exquisite show is presented in an artistic platform, portraying how families give their children roots and wings to live out their hopes and dreams.

The act of telling the stories of immigrants to America is therapeutic, empathetic, and educational, both for the performer and audience. Just like the highly popular series on Apple +, “Little America,” Alma changes our outlook and mindset on the immigrant process.

This show is one for the books…not to be missed.

Through April 3

http://www.center theatre group.org

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Let Your Hair Down…Go See Rapunzel Alone @ 24th St Theatre

The million dollar question parents these days are asking is “how do we talk to our children about subjects like a national pandemic , a war across the pond? With the rampant surge of internet they’re bound to hear, so it’s best to hear and learn from those they trust most. Now, from the 24th Street Theatre company, comes a production aimed for this very purpose. To delicately portray the sensitive subject of the extensive evacuation plan for children in war torn World War 2 London, fleeing to the British country side to strangers’ foster homes until safe to return to family. At this time, they had no social media but rather depended only on letters and telegrams, an idea foreign to the youth of today. No Ubers or Lyfts, only crowded trains and railways for transportation to the unknown that awaits. Approximately 600,000 kids in England did this , and playwright Mike Kenny delivers a beautiful story to stage. A story of Lettie (Tara Alise Cox), in 1944 London , a young mixed-race girl, who must isolate from the loving home she has always known, heading to safety in the bucolic English countryside, to stay with the prim and proper Ms. Pierce (Jacquelin Schofield). Along with the heavy, serious nature of the story, some levity is appreciatively thrown in, with the gregarious goose Gertrude, aggressively chasing Lettie, until they eventually understand each other. There’s no time more appropriate than for a sophisticated theatrical fairy tale, Rapunzel Alone, to grace the stage and calm the nerves of children, teens, and parents alike. Co Directors Debbie Devine and Jesus Castanos Chima have taken on an immense challenge, resulting in a production that is both emotional and educational in one. As an add on to the live performance, “Lettie’s Journal,” is available for online viewing.

Through May 1st

http://www.24thstreet.org

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Let Your Hair Down and Go See Rapunzel Alone @ 24th St. Theatre

The million dollar question parents these days are asking is “how do we talk to our children about subjects like a national pandemic , a war across the pond? With the rampant surge of internet they’re bound to hear, so it’s best to hear and learn from those they trust most. Now, from the 24th Street Theatre company, comes a production aimed for this very purpose. To delicately portray the sensitive subject of the extensive evacuation plan for children in war torn World War 2 London, fleeing to the British country side to strangers’ foster homes until safe to return to family. At this time, they had no social media but rather depended only on letters and telegrams, an idea foreign to the youth of today. No Ubers or Lyfts, only crowded trains and railways for transportation to the unknown that awaits. Approximately 600,000 kids in England did this , and playwright Mike Kenny delivers a beautiful story to stage. A story of Lettie (Tara Alise Cox), in 1944 London , a young mixed-race girl, who must isolate from the loving home she has always known, heading to safety in the bucolic English countryside, to stay with the prim and proper Ms. Pierce (Jacquelin Schofield). Along with the heavy, serious nature of the story, some levity is appreciatively thrown in, with the gregarious goose Gertrude, aggressively chasing Lettie, until they eventually understand each other. There’s no time more appropriate than for a sophisticated theatrical fairy tale, Rapunzel Alone, to grace the stage and calm the nerves of children, teens, and parents alike. Co Directors Debbie Devine and Jesus Castanos Chima have taken on an immense challenge, resulting in a production that is both emotional and educational in one. As an add on to the live performance, “Lettie’s Journal,” is available for online viewing.

Through May 1st

http://www.24th street.org

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Trayf, A Stunning Escape @ The Geffen

From the Geffen Playhouse comes a story of seeking belonging, acceptance, and one’s place in the world. When three young, strong willed men play off each other with smart dialogue and depth of character, this exquisite production is the result. The play, Trayf, directed by Maggie Burrows, is filled with unimaginable vignette stories, unforgettable people and vivid encounters. Playwright Lindsay Joelle so naturally delves into the heart of the play’s subject: the premise of observant Jews possibly leaving the folds of their highly restrictive community. This play, much like the popular Netflix show Unorthodox, is inspired by true stories of religious Jews exploring the outside, secular world. Trayf, in particular, focuses on two young men, Shmuely (Ben Hirschhorn) and Zalmy (Ilan Eskenazy) who drive a Mitzvah tank, and meet Jonathan (Garrett Young), very much interested in converting to Judaism. Similar to the main character in Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, Zalmy is torn by living a double life. By day, he drives the 1990’s Chabad Mitzvah Mobile; by night he sneaks out to roller blade to the forbidden tunes of rock and roll. This play is filled with ironies of six degrees of separation, and thoughts of how the other half lives, questioning whether the grass is truly greener on the other side. It is a most poignant pondering of religious preference of lifestyle, and I’m sure, no accident to be located so close to the UCLA campus, enabling students to explore this serious question in a non-threatening creative theatrical outlet. It’s a funny, heartwarming bittersweet homage to coming of age and making those difficult choices leading to a meaningful adulthood. Friendships are fragile enough, and then when you add to the mix a question of love, loyalty, childhood traditions, and individuating, an entirely new dynamic is introduced. Trayf, the Yiddish word for non kosher symbolizes the modern secular world of the unknown, the taboo, forbidden temptations, like rock music and sex, which these two religious young men have been shielded from. Enter the scene, Jonathan, and his girlfriend Leah (Louisa Jacobson), who appear as a spiritual test to Shmuel and Zalmy’s faith and lifestyle. One comes away from this show, with a new perspective on the broader meaning of love, religion, and ultimately humanity.

http://www.Geffen Playhouse.org

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Lehman Brothers Trilogy: A Three Ring Top Act @ the Ahmanson

I’ve been to many a one woman or one man show, but never have I been privileged to witness a ‘triple threat’ of a three man show, meticulously performed by a trio of excellent actors, Simon Russell Beale (Henry); Adam Godley (Mayer); and Howard Overshown (Emanuel). Not only do these superb actors portray the main characters, the three Lehman brothers of financial fame, fortune (and misfortune), but also a host of various other characters and family members (of all ages) with laughs and schticks aplenty, slipping on a melange of characters amidst a quite serious and epic family saga. The useful printout of a Lehman family tree in the show’s program proves to be an excellent and helpful genealogy guide to refer to while the family’s migration from Bavaria to Alabama to New York City impeccably unfolds onstage. The audience not only learns of the family’s roots but also the family lineage and spouses and children throughout the brothers’ lives. The three hours, divided into three acts, moves at a comfortable pace, proving that a captive audience will sit, when mesmerized by good writing (Stefano Massini). Act one, entitled “Three Brothers” begins in a glass cube of a set, where Henry Lehman begins his journey into America, the ‘golden land,’ the ‘magical music box,’ after arriving by boat from Germany. Act two, “Fathers and Sons” is the timeless story of one generation to the next, passing on legacies, and shows how the brothers grow from having nothing… to prospering in cotton and fabric business in the South… to being bank moguls in New York City and training their sons to run the business in the future. Act three, “The Immortal,” reveals the dark days of the 2008 Wall Street crash and the bankruptcy of the Lehman bank and the ultimate fall of the house of Lehman. Yet, amidst all this turmoil and financial upset, the Jewish tradition prevails, especially during days of mourning, where the family sits shiva for patriarch Henry and devotes moments of silence to pay respect for great nephew Robert. Family and tradition hold steadfast, despite a crumbling unpredictable financial market. One major theme of the show is the contrast of darkness and light, to reveal heavy, intense times, alternating with times of joy and success. Of memorable note is the constant accompaniment of music, ranging from nostalgic Yiddish childhood songs to more modern pieces, kudos to the uber talented music director, Candida Caldicot. A standout moment in the show almost felt like the words were being delivered in technicolor. The story took on a new, energized focus and revealed a ‘gold lining’ in the brothers Lehmann’s accomplishments : their hard work ethic, tenacity. and dreams led them to fund the likes of television and studios (Paramount, 20th Century Fox; aviation (American airlines); oil industry, digital equipment, among many others, all from the start in a small cotton/fabric store in Montgomery, Alabama. Those that have the opportunity to ‘get back’ to live theatre, will enjoy the super witty, entertaining production that ‘Lehman’ is, replete with stellar actors, storytelling of an epic American ‘rags to riches’ (literally!), and perhaps, the most amazing set design I’ve seen.

Through April 10

http://www.center theatre group.org

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