What Kind of Fools Are We? in Neil Simon’s “Musical Fools”

A musical based on a whimsical town where the Lord seemingly placed a sack of fools to take up residence, much like the well known town of Chelm, but this town is under a man made longtime family feud curse. Such is the premise of Neil Simon’s “Musical Fools,” now in its run at the Atwater Village Theatre, presented by the Open Fist Theatre Co. Music and lyrics written by Phil Swann and Ron West, the show portrays this charming ensemble of fools, so convinced of their ‘own wisdom and good common sense,” and living in ignorant bliss. Enters the scene, Leon Tolchinsky, (Demetris Hartman, alternating with James Byous), who first thinks education is his highest priority, but then discovers that love is the most important thing in the world. He is a schoolmaster who comes to town, determined to educate the simpletons of Kulyenchikov. Unbeknownst to Leon, he encounters the lovely young maiden, Sophia (Claire Snodgrass), daughter of Dr Zubritsky (Bruce Green, alternating with Derek Manson) and Lenya (Robyn Roth). Sophia is angelic, both in looks, demeanor, and songbird voice. The ensemble works effortlessly to breathe spirit into this show. The stage comes to life, amidst a set adorned with colorful artwork. At show’s start a train swiftly passed from Moscow to Minsk to Kiev and Belarus and misses the stop where Leon must exit. He is told by the conductor, (Hank Jacobs), “we don’t stop, we slow down and you jump.” This is the intro to the town, where the residents proudly dance along the stage, led by magistrate (Beth Robbins) and accompanied by the music of the band: Jan Roper on keys; Adam Snow on drums; Ross Wright, Ryan Roberts, bass; and Matt Germaine, reeds/flute. The characters are a mix of Seussical like figures and Wizard of Oz munchkins. The shepherd (Parvesh Cheena) introduces himself as “counting sheep in my sleep, but always losing them.” They’re all proud of their stupidity, as they know no better, with plenty of idiosyncrasies and oxymorons, like the village butcher, a vegetarian and the village idiot, a librarian. The setting and characters also brings to mind the beloved stories of Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye the Milkman, the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. Leon comes to represent and counter the belief that every person is not worthy of knowledge, and vows to break the curse that can only be broken if a Zubritsky marries a Youskevitch. Count Gregor (Ben Greenberg, alternating with Jason Paige) is the only remaining descendent, and the mere mention of his name makes each village member tremble. The townspeople are “dumb as rocks and put shoes on before socks.” Leon plans to lift the cloud of ignorance and bring the sunlight of intelligence, all in a time span of 24 hours. As the sparks of his romance with Sophia kindle, the audience goes into wishful thinking mode. The music and lyrics, so cleverly contrived by Swann West, have a Sondheim-esque tone to them, each musical number outshining the previous. We’re simple people- we know not what we do” has such a catchy beat, you’ll find yourself humming upon leaving the theatre, the tell tale sign of a hit song. To escape a real world, fraught with worry and fear, come see “Musical Fools” filled with a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ vibe.

Through Nov. 17

Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 4pm, Mondays 8pm

Atwater Village Theatre 3269 Casitas Ave

(323)882-6912. http://www.openfist.org

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Dancers Got Rhythm in BodyTraffic @ The Wallis

In the world of contemporary, innovative dance, Bodytraffic is the company bringing down the house at theatres throughout the nation. Just completing its run at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Bodytraffic launched the world premiere of Snap by choreographer Michaela Taylor, with works by Fernando Hernando Magadan, Matthew Neenan, and L.A. based choreographer Duo Wewolf. Michaela Taylor, inspired by the ‘godfather of soul,’ James Brown, brought her ensemble together onstage, a brilliant company of the most talented, athletic, whimsical dancers. They put their life stories to dance movements, and their expressions and range of motion and emotion reach the audience at the highest level. The versatility of sequences is proof that these dancers can handle a wide variety of choreography, and whatever scene or storyline comes their way. The first number, elusive minds, performed by Tina Finkelman-Berkett and Guzmán Rosado, is a surreal portrayal of a mental patient, Santiago, haunted by the delusion that a relative has been replaced by an imposter. These dancers give the audience a tingle and chill, exploring the premise that life is indeed stranger than fiction. The world premiere of Snap follows. Choreographed by Michaela Taylor, this piece comes to show us that the ethnically diverse population of Los Angeles is calling out for everyone to recognize uniqueness amidst diversity. Resolve, by Wewolf, is performed by Joseph Davis and Guzmán Rosado, with music by DJ Tennis. It was inspired by b-boy influencer Rubberlegz and dancemaker James Gregg, and brings the heartbeat of electronic music to life onstage. My personal favorite was the final number, A Million Voices, choreography by Matthew Neenan, performed by Tina Berkett, Joseph Davis, Haley Heckethorn, Myles Lavallee, Guzmán Rosado, and Jamal White, to the jazzy, upbeat music of Peggy Lee; Robert Sour; Una Mae Carlisle; Johnny Mercer; Harold Arlen; C. Farrow; Irving Berlin; Mike Stoller & Jerry Lieber; Adrian Zing & Benny Goodman; and Arthur Hamilton. The dancers swing and interact with each other as if they are completely in sync with the jazz music playing. They convey utter joy and in the moment delight as the audience is gifted with both an audio and visual extravaganza. It inspires the audience to perhaps return home and take up ballroom, jazz, or swing dance as a passionate (and healthy!) hobby. Familiar Hollywood and Broadway showtunes resonate, and bring a balance of the familiar merging with the contemporary, a new renaissance in modern dance.

http://www.thewallis.org

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Be The First to See “Last Swallows”

“Last Swallows,” by the inimitable Cailin Maureen Harrison, is a moving, comedic gem, now playing at The Other Space @ The Actors Company in West Hollywood.  It tells the story of a highly dysfunctional New England family, truly the stuff that makes up good, compelling drama.  It revolves around the Whitestone family, coincidentally the name of the always traffic congested Whitestone Bridge, a Nor’easter necessity.  The patriarch of the family is Robert, (a dazzling Bob Telford), who is addicted to his binoculars, in search of birds (his utmost fave, the swallows); bees; and all accompanying wildlife that surrounds and enthralls him.  He is in denial of his failing health, while his grown children and wife are worried beyond measure about him.  This anxiety is to the detriment of his beloved, frail wife, Elizabeth (Shaw Purcell), ever stalwart and suffering.  Then enters the loving cauldron of adult children, Julia (Tina Van Berckelaer); Thomas (Ty Mayberry), and Caroline (Abby Eiland), and their respective spouses, Edward (Matthew Downs); Moira (Leilani Smith), and Simone (Leah Zhang).  Elizabeth believes her husband is near death, so in a frantic gesture to cement her disparate family, she concocts a plan: a family reunion/gathering in Martha’s Vineyard.  Each kid rolls his/her eyes at this ill fated plan, as it conflicts with their day to day busy lives and it is merely regarded as their mother’s last stab at civility.   Thomas and his wife Moira have decided that they want to move to California, their dream home.  Julia and her spouse Edward are frustrated with their state of childlessness, and Julia has just been offered a plum job which requires fast action.  And Dr. Caroline and her wife Simone have been invited to Simone’s brother’s wedding overseas, at the same time as the Vjneyard trip.  Just then, it seems that all is lost, ala “the well laid plans of mice and men, gang after glee,”  in other word, the trip is off.  Elizabeth, at once overjoyed, is now dismayed.    The plot intensified and thickens at this point.  Of notable mention is the exquisite dialogue; flawless direction (Kiff Scholl), and production (Racquel Lehrman), all making this show a must see.  Simple evidence of the play’s complex symbolism is that it begins on New Year’s Eve,  as the characters clink their glasses, as an ironic kudo to familial bonding, and then a decade later, in their homes in Hartford; Providence; Worcester, and Boston, the family realizes it is all over the map, literally.  Getting together physically is almost an anomaly.  Alas, of note, is a writer’s trick that I found quite effective, that of overlaid dialogue, in which two or more characters speak the same thought at the same time, driving the point bluntly home.  Also, the incidental music at set segues, rings relevant, such as “I’m Just a Rebel  Out  For  Kicks,” and “Burning Down the House,” wonderful complements to the delirious antics taking place onstage.  Again, Kiff Scholl’s direction of his play, in the style of a Greek tragi-comedy is a challenge ably mastered.  The subtle, subliminal reference/analogy of the swallows as noisy chattering creatures who appear and then fleetingly quiet and disappear, much like the Whitestone adult children is a brilliant metaphor. 

Through October 20

Fridays & Saturdays 8 pm

Sundays 2 pm

916 N. Formosa 

(323) 960-5770

http://www.Onstage411.com/swallows 

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Age is Just A Number… in “Skintight”

Calvin Klein, or any designer, for that matter, craved immortality, attention, romance with a young lover, an artsy pad, and above all, a fashionable lifestyle, although these may appear superficial.  Such is the basis of “Skintight,” now in its run at the Geffen Playhouse.  Idina Menzel delivers a dazzling performance as Jodi Isaac, devoted daughter and mother, wanting the very best for both her dad and son.  In the “sandwich generation,” she helps both her father, Elliot Isaac (Harry Groener) and son, Benjamin Cullen (Eli Gelb), immersing herself in co-dependent relationships.  Elliot is the consummate designer, father, grandfather and forever young lover. He wishes to be both young at heart, and more importantly, yet superficially, young in appearance. Benjamin, wishing to establish his own identity and independence, visits from college and has his eye on his grandfather’s newest lover, Trey (Will Britain), ironically the same age as himself.  Elliot’s latest obsession, is keeping his skin as tight and supple as soft bedsheets, hence his in home Botox/collagen injections, and the apropos title of the play.  This focus will definitely resonate with California audiences of any age.  Inside jokes and innuendos relating to the fashion design industry, as well as the lives, loves, and travails of the rich and famous add a humorous touch to the overall story.  It’s no surprise that this show has been extended due to sold out shows.  For a chance to increase your laugh lines, treat yourself to a performance of “Skintight.”

http://www.geffenplayhouse.org

(310) 208-5454

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Wit and Wonder in “Witch” @ The Geffen

It takes a strong woman to play a witch, tempted to sell her soul to the devil, and Maura Tierney brilliantly rises to the occasion in “Witch,” now in its run at the Geffen Playhouse.   In this dark fairy tale comedy,  Tierney brings to life the contrast of eerie darkness and vivid color with intense character development from start to finish.  Playwright Jen Silverman has a forte of writing for strong women in “Witch,” her latest play.  One draws from her obvious fascination with the heavy concepts of good vs. evil; despair vs. hope, that this play will touch on these themes, reflected by the eyes on the portrait we see as we first enter the theatre.  The devil, Scratch (Evan Jonigkeit) is in the details, as he delivers a compelling performance, trying to convince and persuade the gullible Frank Thorney (Ruy Iskandar) and Cuddy Banks (Will Von Vogt) to sell their souls in exchange for wish fulfillment.  We learn of Frank’s and Cuddy’s inner yearnings and agendas as they soul search and etch a deal with the devil Scratch.   Enter strong Elizabeth Sawyer (Tierney), where a match of keen wits is clearly a most memorable , unpredictable scene of the play.  Her beauty on the surface is only matched by her inner beauty which lies beneath.  She, too, is tempted by the devil to sell her soul, but initially thinks better of it. Another female force not to be reckoned with is the lovely maiden Winnifred (Vella Lovell).  As the eyes are often considered the ‘mirrors of the soul,’ the set is symbolic, indeed, featuring a haunting portrait focusing on the eyes of the late wife of Sir Arthur Banks (Brian George).  It’s as if she’s witnessing the entire debacle through her leering eyes, and the audience can’t help but wonder about her thoughts from the other side .  These eyes lure the audience into the dark yet comedic drama about to unfold.  A true standout of “Witch” is Will Von Vogt in his exquisite solo dance. The choreography (Jessica Lee Keller) reveals Cuddy’s dexterity and skill as a Morris dancer.

Playwright Jen Silverman explains, “The Witch of Edmonton is the only play I encountered from that time that boldly announces to the audience that it is going to do this exact thing, and then does entirely the opposite.”  Her keen ability to create a revival of this classic piece by Jacobean playwrights Rowley, Dekker, and Ford is something not to be missed, as she recreates the story, now set in contemporary times, even more so resonating with audiences today.  With characters such as devil, witch, and a spooky, almost haunted palace, what better way to bring in the pre-Halloween season.

“Witch”

http://www.geffenplayhouse.org

(310)2082028

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