Forgive, and Never Forget … in “Daytona”

Daytona, written by Oliver Cotton; produced by John Perrin Flynn, and directed by Elina de Santos, is a story of three Holocaust survivors, exquisitely played by Richard Fancy, Sharron Shayne, and George Wyner, whose lives intertwine amidst many twists and turns of plot. Billy (Fancy) goes to live in Daytona Beach, Florida, to far remove himself from the horrors, traumas, and catastrophic events that he faced during the war. Flash forward to Brooklyn, New York, winter of 1986, circa thirty years post war. Billy, unannounced, knocks at the door of his brother Joe (Wyner), and sister in law/ former lover Elli (Shayne), only to confess the unspeakable act of murdering a former vicious Nazi guard, whom he, without a doubt, recognized in Daytona, who had taken on a new identity, albeit never forgotten by a survivor’s eye witness memory . He pleads his case to family and implores their help. He said he could not control his impulse or rage, and the only answer was to kill him, in the name of divine retribution, as it were. One memorable line of dialogue, “I didn’t want him in jail; I wanted him dead.” Now in the bitter cold of New York winter, Billy still dons his tropical Hawaiian garb, and old nostalgic sparks fly and rekindle when seeing Elli once again. Joe is bewildered, as he has not seen nor heard from his long lost brother in 30 years. The subplot of an affair between his brother and wife is unbeknownst to him; they are both shocked to reunite with Billy under these circumstances. Billy magically wishes to make this situation ‘disappear,’ and to be absolved from all transgressions,apropos to the theme of the Yom Kippur holy day of atonement , which has just past. The brother and his wife reluctantly take mercy on Billy, yet insist that he turns himself into the authorities. This powerful, poignant play has messages one would be apt to hear in the Yom Kippur liturgy, including the idea of forgiveness and retribution. The timeliness of this production, during the 10 days of awe, personally resonated with me, and it is a very meaningful rendition of a theme found in many books and films, yet this one, now in theatrical form, is touching and beautifully written and performed.

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Hold the Phone! It’s “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”

With Siri and Alexa becoming our new (albeit inanimate) best friends, “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”, now in its run at the Odyssey Theatre is both timely and innovative . This millenial and baby boomer oriented show, written by Kevin Armento and directed by Peter Richards, creatively features the narrator (Thomas Piper), a smartphone , accompanied in the background by Foley/Soundscape Designer (Adam Smith).  Of note is the high tech, sleek, sophisticated set, designed by Pete Hickok and lighting designer Kelley Finn.   The phone recounts endless scenarios of personal conversations via texts, photos, and calls of a teen student Red McCray. While tossed and strewn about in a barrage of places such as his teacher’s desk drawer; plopped on the bed; or stowed away in the car glove compartment, the phone gives its point of view through a very anthropomorphic vantage point . The audience comes to connect with the phone, as almost human, with sensitivities and emotions just like the humans who are daily obsessed with their phones. As smartphones (at least for me) have become an additional limb or digit on our body, we can totally resonate with the narrator feeling almost abandoned by its owner in many a situation revealed onstage. The phone holds many secrets and stories, beneath the surface of its ringtone, and to unlock the password brings missed calls and opportunities to the forefront.
Not only does its hard outer shell get bruised, smashed, but its inner core (ego) ,as well. This play, whose title is a cleverly conceived mathematical/operations mnemonic acronym, sheds light on the fact that we should never take for granted inanimate objects, of the smart, electrical sort, which society today depends upon and cherishes deeply. This show illustrates how technology has taken the world by storm, and the idea that a phone can have feelings, thoughts, and human attributes is one idea that’s been perpetuated in films and books , but not on a live stage, thus far.
The play had shades of the 2013 indie film, “Her,” about a new operating system which develops into a unique and intuitive entity in its own right. This play is a novel concept and I believe this is just the beginning, proving that  if phones could talk… they would surely have something profound to say!

Through October 8th
Fridays and Saturdays 8pm
Sundays 2pm
Odyssey Theatre 2055 S. Sepulveda
323 960-4429

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“In Mother Words” of Wisdom by Pam Levin

“Tales of Modern Motherhood” This Sh*t Just Got Real, written and performed by Pam Levin, played to a sold out crowd and standing ovation at the Whitefire Theatre, Wednesday Sept. 13th.  This one woman show is witty, entertaining, poignant, real, raw, all in one; in short, it’s everything fine theatre should be.  The Whitefire solo shows yet again never cease to amaze me, delivering material, both edgy and honest, the quality of HBO’s finest.  This show is ninety minutes of Pam Levin pouring her heart and soul, in both humorous vignettes and musical numbers, all the while, exploring the underlying theme of motherhood, in all its glory, sometimes gory, trials and tribulations.  Mothers are sustainers, the life force, as it were, each one filled with her own unique story and ‘take’ on the maternal experience, both ‘joys and oys.’ Pam’s words, all of which are autobiographical from her own life’s journey, from marriage to motherhood, elicit tears of joy amidst stories of struggle and angst. One (of her many) humorous personal vignette revolves around her first learning of her pregnancy and testing it with both generic and name brand pregnancy tests just to ensure its validity.  Each and every story is told with heartfelt delivery (no pun intended), rendering life lessons and beautiful values.  Pam Levin is a veteran of the one woman show genre, and Tales of Modern Motherhood will make its East Coast Premiere off-Broadway at the United Solo Festival in New York City, October 2, 2017. With her strong, fierce persona, Levin has the confidence and wherewithal to carry her show solo, and captivate the audience in its entirety.  Following the huge success of performing “In My Own X-Rated Words, written by Fredrica Duke, Pam Levin is a force to be reckoned with, leaving a legacy, sure to resonate and ring true with all the women (and men in their lives).



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Find Yourself…”Lost In Yonkers”


Neil Simon is one of the greatest comedic-dramatic playwrights of all time, and his Pulitzer Prize winning play, Lost in Yonkers, graces the stage at the Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in Noho arts district. Although this sentimental coming of age story takes place some 50 years ago, its message of family survival despite all odds (financial hardships; loss; disability) resonates with us today. The story is timely and contemporary, and topical to today’s troubled times, where families sometimes work odd jobs to scrape out a living and rely on extended family support, and the characters’ trials and tribulations affect us all emotionally.
The play, directed by Larry Eisenberg, and produced by Doug Haverty, centers around two brothers, Jay (Bennett Saltzman) and Arty (Brent Anthony), whose mother has died and are forced to live with their grandmother (Loraine Shields) and mentally challenged Aunt Bella (Roslyn Cohn). Meanwhile, their father (Patrick Burke) is caught in a maelstrom of debt and financial desperation, having no other choice but to travel and leave his sons behind with his extended dysfunctional family. As his facial expressions truly reveal his inner angst, Burke is a remarkable actor, eliciting compassion and empathy from the audience. De rigueur, Simon effectively uses sarcasm and schtick, particularly by brother Louis (Van Boudreaux) and sister Bella, as well as witty dialogue ala shades of Woody Allen/ Larry David style humor. Overwhelmed and overworked, he counts on his boys to be strong, ironically depending on a clan of helplessly dysfunctional relatives coming to his aid.
Simon’s witticisms and gems of dialogue are once again priceless in this comedic drama, as the two young men, lost in Yonkers, ultimately find themselves. Each character, in his or her own unique style, imparts words of wisdom, teaching us profound lessons on life, belonging, family, a home of one’s own.

Through October 22
Fridays and Saturdays 8pm
Sundays 2pm
Lonny Chapman Theatre
10900 Burbank Blvd.
818 763-5990

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‘The Nicest Kids in Town…’ in Act 1’s Hairspray

“Hairspray , the Musical,” comes to the stage at Theatre 68, presented by ACT-1; produced by Sierra Fisk and directed by Chera Marks. It is a paeon to the film cult classic, written and directed by John Waters. It dares to take on the once hot button taboo subject matter of civil rights and race integration in the 1960’s. The catchy, upbeat music is prevalent throughout each and every musical number, with some memorable highlights, including the opening piece, “Good Morning Baltimore,” (Tracy and Ensemble); and closing number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” (Tracy and company).
Benni Safchik delivers an impressive standout performance as Tracy Turnblad. She belts out her songs and dances her heart out, replete with authentic period hair ‘up-do’s’ and wardrobe, bringing the era to life onstage. This youth production definitely captures the decade portrayed, with the sensitive subject of race relations and tolerance all too timeless in today’s state of events. The uber talented ensemble breathes life into each and every character portrayed, with the unspoken tension in the air clearly palpable. This fine company, under the direction of Sierra Fisk, Graham Jackson, and Chera Marks, has done musical lyricist Marc Shaiman proud, enabling the audience to feel empathy and connection to each character on stage.

Through August 13th
Theatre 68 North Hollywood


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Our Janis…forevermore

“My Janis,” recently playing to sold out crowds at the Hollywood Fringe Fest 2017, is the passionate one woman show of the iconic singer, who flamed out like a candle in the wind much like her counterparts in an entourage of the fated 27 club, including Jimmy  Hendrix, Ken Morrison and Amy Winehouse. Impeccably portrayed by her uncanny lookalike, Arianna Veronesi,  Janis Joplin was
considered golden with only 3 albums made.
Veronesi managed  to create an aura onstage that comes along very rarely and when it does, we all need to pay attention. She came from the tiny little town of Port Arthur, Texas but managed to become a supernova in almost a split second and in this show we see her evolve from an unsure unknown to a vibrant innate talent.
Her voice alone indicated such a unique powerful soul and the songs she wrote will be remembered forever,  with  multitudes of versions springing up like toadstools.
If you wanted to sum up Janis Joplin in a couple of words – she suffered artistically more than most humans do , on her brief visit here on Earth. One song , strongly resonating with me ,  “If  You Love  Somebody,” is basically about relationships between women and men; all the pining, expectations and mostly disappointment , echoes brilliantly .
The hippie life/culture she was immersed in was an intrinsic part of my daily existence, as well as many audience members in attendance, as evidenced by many a tye dye T shirt; flowers in hair; and Birkenstocks.
The fact that she overdosed on heroin at 27
proves that what she expressed in her songs was tragically too real.
She basically seemed like a small town girl but even with her humble, simplistic attitude and outlook on life one can sense the inner brilliance and talent and fire within.


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A Royal Feast at Concern Foundation Block Party 2017

It was an evening fit for a king (or queen), set in the majestic backlot of Paramount Studios, all in the name of cancer research by the noble organization, the Concern Foundation.  Pulled brisket sliders and fried onion topping was one most exceptional of the offerings, from renowned caterers, “Someone’s in the Kitchen,” along with a memorable buffet of prime rib and horseradish dressing from none other than the knightly Lawry’s The Prime Rib. A line up to gather an abundant platter, yet worth its weight (wait) in gold! Another most popular booth was a Brazilian BBQ buffet by Samba! One of the many memorable desserts was a beautiful eye candy display by Provence Patisserie as well as Gluten free goddess, with cupcakes and brownies to one’s heart’s content, and Bertha Mae’s homemade brownies. Another standout was Dulen’s Soul Food, with a generous serving of collard greens, warm corn bread and fried chicken. And on such a hot midsummer ‘s eve, no block party would be complete without a bounty of libations, and Concern rose to the plate with sips and savors from Tito’s Vodka; Cuban mojitos, belle rose wine , and Reed’s Ginger Beer, among the many samplers.
Vegans/vegetarians need not worry, as there were soy and tofu options provided by Cornucopia caterers; and faux ahi tuna tartare made with compressed watermelon, courtesy of Ocean Prime.
No kingdom celebration/revelry of this caliber would be complete without its many loyal donors and supporters: 4000 people strong- one night-
Raising over $2 million to conquer cancer.

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