Hungry For Laughter…in “Renee Taylor’s Life On A Diet” @ the Wallis

“You can never be too rich or too thin (or too famous!)” may be the perfect tag line for Renee Taylor’s life. Charmed as it may be, her life story is revealed in the most intimate of settings at the Wallis Annenberg’s Lovelace Theatre in her solo show: “Renee Taylor’s My Life On A Diet,” written by Renee Taylor and the late Joe Bologna. In a timeline of events and a chronology of diets, accompanied by a slideshow visual of her life, we see how the Renee Taylor of her youth has evolved beautifully into the Renee Taylor of her golden years, through thick and thin, literally. She has gotten herself together and ‘taken it on the road,’ and share with her world of adoring fans and friends, her love of life, food, family, her beloved late husband Joe Bologna. Both men and women will be able to identify with her comedic memoir, that she so easily reads from throughout the show, and since it’s her own personal life’s accounting, her recall is impeccable, or in her words, “it’s ginkgo overload!” We are amazed to learn of the quality and quantity of celebrity close friends in her formative and current years, including, to name a few, Fran Drescher, Lee Strasberg, Marilyn Monroe, Barbra Streisand, Jerry Lewis, Hugh Hefner, Elaine May, and Joan Crawford. In fact, Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna (who had been happily married 53 years) had their vows renewed by you name it: the Pope; Dalai Lama; and Dr. Oz. She casually and comfortably talks about a subject too often hidden in Hollywood: women’s body image and weight issues, and cleverly sums up all the diets she’s tried (without success), such as the Scarsdale diet; the Marilyn Monroe diet (frozen grapes); and her personal favorite, the champagne diet: “I have two glasses of champagne before every meal and I loved that!” Throughout the show there are pictures of the fabulous Ms. Taylor in sizes ranging from 4 to 18. She is able to laugh at herself, and even describe herself as a food tramp: “I’m someone who eats around!” Or upon waking up, her first recollection: “I dreamt about hash browns shaped like an Oscar.” Laughter truly is the best medicine for all that ails us, and although fat is not something we always celebrate, Taylor seems invincible in ‘neutralizing the term,’ and dressed to the nines in sequins; and aging so very gracefully, she is a legend in her own right, desirable and glam. It truly is refreshing to see a stylish, ‘off the rack’ celebrity icon take ownership of her image and body and truly embrace it. In her show, Taylor candidly shares the highs and lows of her well lived life (both on and off the scale). On her honeymoon, she had thought “if I found the true love of my life, I’d lose my appetite! Instead all I think of is chicken cacciatore and a hot fudge sundae!” There are so many pearls of wisdom to glean from Renee’s story. She states she looks to food for approval, and even though she has currently gone vegan, she’ll once in a blue moon have a juicy NY steak.” She also reveals that the only true recipe and diet for success includes “a pinch of kindness.” In “My Life On A Diet,” Renee Taylor pulls it all together and sums up her life succinctly “Destiny is calling… you just have to show up.”

Through April 14
Apr 10,11,12 @ 8pm
Apr 13 @ 2:30 and 8 pm
Apr 14 @2:30 and 7:30 pm
Wallis Annenberg
9390 Santa Monica Blvd. Beverly Hills

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Prancing With “Wolves” Scores Big @ The Echo

Adolescent angst is a prevalent theme in TV; film; and stage productions, but nowhere is it more poignantly and tactfully portrayed than in Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves,” where she takes teen age girl talk on a soccer team to a whole new playing field. “The Wolves,” directed by Alana Dietze, is now in its run, presented by the Echo Theatre Company @ the Atwater Village Theatre. It is a show filled with stretching and convo; raw emotion and grit, with nonstop athletics in motion, combined with nonstop sharp dialogue, sure to get both the cast members’ and audience’s adrenaline pumping. The ensemble is comprised of a mix of true adolescent warriors, so credibly played by Kathryn Cronyn; Minzy; Ellen Neary; Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson; Jacqueline Besson; Donna Zadeh; Makeda Declet; Connor Kelly-Eiding; and soccer mom (Alison Martin), making an appearance near show’s end.
Some seem to talk at each other, while one, the awkward new girl, #46, (Caitlin Zambito), is the object of overt bullying, to which she rants and chants a catchy mantra: “I live in a yogurt; my feelings can’t get hurt.” She chimes in and adds to the more popular clique of girls, with complete non-sequiturs, not helping her case. But, out of this seeming chaos and cacophony of sorts, comes a delicate coming of age story, filled with profound insights on growing up and charming, pithy thoughts on their planet, fraught with dysfunction and madness. They discuss major issues, besides just scoring goals and boyfriends, such as the Khmer Rouge, and the plight of Mexican children in cages, proclaiming “its not the world we want.” And even though each cast member, a designated # on a sports shirt, seems to be an isolated entity/island to herself, each dreams of being discovered by a local college soccer scout (apparently off stage), and we quickly learn they are indeed a cohesive unit, rooting for each other, a ‘pack of wolves,’ as it were, just as their team name implies. One clever line of dialogue confirms this sentiment: “team work makes the dream work.” Each member has her own quirks & idiosyncrasies, and unique talents and positions, yet, as the saying goes, “stronger together,” as revealed in their frequent huddles. #25, the team captain, (Kelly-Eiding) shows impeccable leadership in uniting the team, despite all odds and competitive inklings, as they delve into sensitive feminine subjects, once taboo onstage, such as sexism, menstruation and abortion. It’s evident that the director and writer carefully treats each persona with the utmost of respect. The underlying, yet overlying theme of the show is loss, a shocking tragedy that occurs midway through, which ultimately brings the blossoming young women closer together and finally bonded. Even the sassy mean-spirited girl, #7, (Cronyn), is as sensitive and vulnerable, beneath her facade, as her ‘ya-ya sisterhood,’ than she’d like us to believe. The ensemble emerges from solitude to solidarity, as each character develops and awaits their next transition…on the soccer field…and beyond. One of my favorite genres are stories of formative years, bringing a sense of nostalgia and re-kindling of youth.
A striking performance, not to be missed.

Through April 22
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave.
Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays 8pm
Sundays 4pm

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Dance of Flight & Fancy @ The Wallis

Cuba’s renowned Malpaso Dance Company brings a slice of Havana, ‘hot dance in the city’ to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
The selection of music is a mix between classic and contemporary to complement and enhance the eclectic moves of the entire company of eleven. Upon opening piece, “Improvisation IV” by John Cage, the audience is introduced to the ensemble, Dunia Acosta, Maria Karla Araujo; Daileidys Carrazana; Osnel Delgado; Beatriz Garcia; Armando Gomez; Abel Rojo, and Lisbeth Saad, almost lifted from a scene in a chorus line, as it were. They are all positioned in a row, center stage with shades of gray, pastel and maroon leotards. One of the simple beauties of most ballet numbers, such as this, is that movement takes precedence, with disappearing, reappearing, and literal leaps and bounds, over plot and narrative. They almost radiate the aura of a combination of angels, butterflies, and toy soldiers with limber agility and dexterity in one. The music by John Cage adds to the classical element, while maestro choreographer Merce Cunningham is superb, as always.
Scene 2, “Ocaso,” (which means sunset) was my personal favorite of the evening, a more contemporary piece, a love story, so intimate and real between two dancers, (Osnel Delgado and Beatriz Garcia) who exude impeccable chemistry. Colorful costumes and moves added to the puppet/ porcelain doll like quality of the dance. The choreography, with creative pas-de-deux and pirouette combinations, was exquisite, set to the music, “Parallel Suns” by Autechre; “White Man Sleeps, Track 2” by Kronos Quartet; and “”Sunlight,” by Max Richter. One of the most compelling vehicles of the two partner ballet is to express intense emotions of love and connection, with both pas de deux and solo variation. They credibly weave a story of an evolving relationship, amidst a world in decline. The dance is whimsical and light, fitting for the instrumental fiddle playing; and the way that Delgado and Garcia flex, bend, and support each other in a tight knit performance, reveal they have completely gained each other’s trust. Strong kudos to choreographer, Osnel Delgado.
Scene 3 “Being/Ser” portrays a romantic /poetic scene, of building bridges, choreographed by newcomer Beatriz Garcia. It is a delicately crafted dance piece, where each dancer supports one another and gradually builds upon each other, much like building blocks, with moves reminding me of somersaults and bows. If only dance movements could talk! The three dancers (Dunia Acosta; Fernando Benet; and Beatriz Garcia) appear fearless, free, fierce, and flighty, almost like birds or butterflies ready to use their wings and soar.
Scene 4, Ohad Naharin, famed Israeli choreographer, in his “Tabula Rasa,” had imagined a simple structure, where “it’s a lot about how you dance, not what you dance.” This urban, modern dance piece, with the ensemble, all in street clothes, is much more about celebrating collaboration and similarities rather than differences. Perhaps the most striking part of the performance, is when the dancers sway to the left and right on stage, almost seeming to lean on each other. The music, “Tabula Rasa” by Arvo Part, enhances the movement, with a melancholic trance and violin that sets the mood. These very fine dancers have the capacity to juxtapose energetic, almost acrobatic-like; then next lay still on the floor. The second half implies a sensual love triangle, with all complexities and emotions therein.
In essence, “life without dance is like life without oxygen…impossible”

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Suspense is in the Air…in “The Sound or Murder”

“The Sound of Murder” is yer another gem from the creative forces at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills. David Hunt Stafford is the main character (Charles), a very successful children’s book writer, who, in actuality, hates children (one of the multiple ironies in this show). His wife Anne, played by the fabulous Kate Whitney, is forever expected to be the dutiful servant, even bringing her husband his favorite cocktail, when in the bath. This drama, from the brilliant mind of William Fairchild, is a suspenseful whodunnit, which purposely confuses the audience with plot twists and turns ala O’Henry, Poe, and Rod Serling. The story of the finding of this hidden kernel is almost as amazing as the production itself. It bombed at its original run in 1959 at a West End theatre in London, and Stafford recovered it amongst the dust, and we, the audience, are the grand and lucky recipients. When Charles first saunters onto the stage, we see a narcissistic, yet talented man who barks orders to his wife. Peter Marriot (Gabriel Oliva) arrives on scene, and discusses with Anne, their mutual desire for her to divorce her husband and then to run off together. Next onstage is Charles’ extremely dutiful and devoted secretary Miss Forbes (Roslyn Cohn), who states, unequivocally, “I love my job,” while adjusting the tape machine, an intrinsic part of the intricate set. There is also a bumbling Inspector Davidson (Peter Trencher), reminiscent of the character in “An Inspector Calls,” who visits Charles in his sprawling house to presumably make sure he has a proper updated license for his silver gun, stashed in a drawer in the living quarters, but his real agenda is to get an autograph of Charles on one of his latest tomes, for his precious children. This request obviously annoys Charles to no end. When Anne sadly discovers that divorce is out of the question, she and Peter construct a devilish plan to ‘do away’ with Charles, but things suddenly go awry. When, at the end of the first act, Miss Forbes, in total shock, discovers his body, she mysteriously transforms, by start of second act, into a beautiful monster, which truly lies beneath her exterior/facade. This character change is perhaps the most delicious resurrection of this dazzling drama, as she climbs out of her nerdy, librarian shell and shrewdly tells Anne that the gig is up, and basically offers a blackmail, of instead of coming clean to the authorities, she must give up Peter. Miss Forbes has a secret undying crush on Peter and wants him for herself. No more details of this clever caper shall be revealed, saving the element of surprise for future audiences. However, I will say that the direction by Adrian Cohen is excellent and his talented cast complement his achievement. Sound effects by Joseph Slawinski are admirable, as the thunder and lightening play a most ominous, foreboding role. Set design by Jeff Rack is magnificent, as well as costumes by Michele Young; lighting by Brandon Baruch; and hair & makeup by Judi Lewin. This show is a great example of collaboration at its best. Go see “The Sound of Murder,” a murder mystery, that will leave you tantalized, horrified, and gratified!

Through April 14
Thurs-Sat 8pm
Sun 2pm
Theatre 40
241 S. Moreno Dr. Beverly Hills
(310) 364-0535

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A Show of ‘Elephantine Quality,’ @ The El Portal

Based on the true story of John Merrick, “The Elephant Man” at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, transforms a simple space into a major theatrical production into a show with spectacular appeal. Written by Bernard Pomerance and directed by Robyn Cohen, with lighting design by Bo Tindall and set design by Lillian George, we are immediately transported to Victorian England 1884, to watch a gripping drama (based on a true story)come alive before our eyes. Of note are the dashing & decadent period costumes,(kudos to costume designer Moe Marks), with almost a shade of goth, which seem to be making a fashion comeback. Right from the opening scene, where two male porters (David Revaza and Logan Padilla) sweep up after a sideshow circus performance– to the next scene, where Dr Frederick Treves (played by John Ralston Craig) encounters Merrick (Tom Vitorino), inviting him to be his “subject,” one learns the rule of theatre 101: “there are no small roles, only small actors.” From lowly sweeper to esteemed research doctor, from carnival pinhead to elegant countess, each actor runs the gamut, each an intrinsic part of the bigger picture. When the same actors play multiple roles, the audience immediately recognizes the depth of character development and creative teamwork involved.

Vitorino brings a humbling tenderness and sensitivity to his role as Merrick, truly capturing both physical agony and mental anguish. He remarkably assumes the posture of his Job-ian character who was dealt a most treacherous blow of fate imaginable. One most memorable line of dialogue references “the book of Job, with a just and merciful God.” Author Bernard Pomerance once noted, on the choice of no shocking makeup or effects for the elephant man: “any attempt to reproduce Merrick’s appearance or speech naturalistically would seem not only counterproductive, but distracting from the play.” Vitorino precisely conveys the physical deformity and grotesque features through voice and body language- rather than with extreme makeup. One very poignant scene in the show was when each character, such as Mrs. Kendal (Alice L. Walker), named various characteristics of Merrick, such as ‘thoughtful, discreet, curious, sensitive, honest,’ and found the same features within herself. This scene surely conveys the message that the soul which lies inside is far deeper and resonant than the outer surface/exterior. Kendall and Treves do their utmost to provide Merrick with a dignified life of hope, love, and meaning, rather than exploitation. The show’s haunting, exquisite score and music (sound engineering by Beau Bancroft) not only enhances but carries the emotional energy. It has so much potential that a chamber operetta of The Elephant Man could well be on the musical horizon.
Through April 14
Wed & Thurs 8PM
Fri & Sat 8PM
Sun. 3PM
El Portal Theatre
5269 Lankershim Blvd.
818 508-4200

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Purim Megi-la-la-la @ WBT Westside

OMG, what could be a bettah treat than a Purim Shalach Manot, than watching my four favorite songstresses/comediennes performing a spiel on my favorite show, entitled “The Marvelous Mrs. Shulshan.” Shelly Goldstein, Rena Strober, Monica Piper, and Wendy Hammers were superb in putting ‘the Purr into Purim, and the hum into Hamantaschen.’ May their successes multiply like the poppy seeds in these Purim delicacies.
The show opened to original, delightful lyrics in “I’m in a Purim State of Mind,” setting the mood for whimsy and frolic. One stand up comic, David Zasloff, took the stage, stating “I believe in Transcendental hesitation, or Zen Judaism, where you live in the moment, but wait, that’s not enough time!” With this kind of laugh a minute schtick, the audience was in for a rip roaring evening. To start off, Wendy Hammers, as a most credible Rose Weissman, took the stage and ‘made such a Megillah.’ Monica Piper was a sweet, yet assertive Vashti, the biblical feminist who said an emphatic NO to dancing before the king in only her royal crown; she, perhaps the original founder of the Me Too movement. So where did she end up? “Dinner theatre in La Cage, with other old queens.” A stand out number by Goldstein and Strober (Zeresh and Esther) was “All That Scmaltz,” a creative parody sung to All that Jazz showtune. Their voices were so strong and magnificent, that they would surely win “Shushan’s Got Talent,” or “Persian Idol.” Wendy Hammers shot out one liners like “not J Lo, but Jew-lo; not Beyoncé but Beyonc-oy, and how NYU is an acronym for ‘Now You’re Unemployed.” Shelly Goldstein, as Zeresh (a female version of villain Haman) quipped, “I’m not the Red Sea, you don’t want to cross me,” while the enchanting heroine of our story, Rena Strober, as Esther (Miriam Maisel), belted her heart out and proudly exclaimed, “A chance to save my people and have a holiday in my honor, where people get drunk, shake noisemakers, and wear masks!” No talent was hidden in these festivities, as the audience wined, dined, and laughed, as if truly at a royal banquet. The last laugh, of course was on Haman (Zeresh, doomed to a dreary fate being hung at the gallows. And perhaps the most raunchy moment of all, is when Monica Piper said, “I haven’t said Haman yet… no one likes a premature Grogger or royal sceptre!” To end the show, the audience joined in to a rollicking sing along to “there’s few stories like Jew stories…. we thrive when we’ve got woe…back when Queen Esther figured she should ask the king…. the cantors, the costumes, the tales at Sinai, the way that we stay cheerful when we fast..” all sung to the tune of “there’s no business like show business.” Credits for the song lyrics go to the remarkable Jerram Schwartz Rabbi Susan Nanus.


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One can Never Have “Too Much Sun…”

Is there ever really “too much sun?” when summer vacationing at the seaside paradise of Cape Cod (personally my favorite spot!). Such is the premise in “Too Much Sun,” by Nicky Silvers, now showing at the illustrious Odyssey Theatre. This play takes me back to a special moment captured in time ; many a memory, many a conversation, (whether heated or fun loving); many an intimate moment between family, friends, and neighbors; even many a meal or snack! Every one in this play is ‘looking for love in all the wrong places,” and like Icarus, is trying vainly to bask in the sun’s rays, and falls back to earth with a rude thump of awakening. “Too Much Sun,” written by Nicky Silver and directed by Bart DeLorenzo is much like a Greek tragedy in the environs of Cape Cod. At first scene, we are introduced to Audrey (Diane Cary), an apparently overworked, flustered diva on a Chicago stage, who is blithely trying to recite a monologue from Medea, with constant cajoling from an unseen director, who patiently and comedically tries to instill in her a confidence and belief in the necessity of her presence. Quickly, we fast forward to a house on Cape Cod, (the main setting of the play), where Audrey is resting her weary bones in the office of daughter’s husband Dennis (Bryan Langlitz), a frustrated novelist/ad executive. We next see Lucas (Bailey Edwards,) the neighbor’s son, rolling a joint on a beach lounge chair, and basically telling everyone to ‘lighten up,’ yes, pun intended. Audrey has a problem fulfilling her obligations, so her agent sends his much put upon assistant, Gil (Joe Gillette), to fetch Audrey and return her to Chicago… or else. Meanwhile, Gil has a change of heart and career choice, and yearns to become a rabbi! Audrey is a lonely heart (as are all the other characters), and when neighbor Winston (Clint Jordan) appears, she quickly falls in love. Soon enough, all are planning their wedding, making Audrey a wife six times over. Along the way, Dennis and Lucas are seen passionately kissing on the beach, and the complications ensue. Nicky Silver is the playwright, putting great words of dialogue into the mouths of these talented actors, portraying eccentric characters. Audrey and Winston’s pairing is compared to “two rusty, sailing ships, floundering in the winds and waves.” One can tangibly visualize this poetic imagery of language. Audrey’s daughter Kitty (Autumn Reeser) is overburdened with her mother’s endless demands, and probes her mother about her mysterious, secret path. This dramatic play involves themes of infanticide, suicide , and deals with a titular sun that shines too brightly on this dysfunctional, murkily diffused group, much like the skies above Medea, the plays of Eugene O’Neill; Chekhov; and Aeschylus, with Audrey the standout as a tragicomic figure. There are constant references, on her pathetic attempt to legitimize her artistic zeal. Director (Bart DeLorenzo) and his fabulous cast and crew have put this gem of a production together at the stellar Odyssey Theatre, where the bar is as high as Mount Olympus. Ron Sossi (Artistic Director) is the captain of the Odyssey Theatre (ship), who, like Zeus, had a multiplicity of children and gods, albeit constantly misbehaving, and we, the audience get to witness this extravaganza, maybe with a glass of wine nearby! Go see it; you will be well rewarded!

Through April 21st
Thurs. Fri Sat 8pm
Sun 2pm
Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.

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