Choose Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” @ The Geffen

The messages in stories like “Scrooge” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” come to tell us of the importance of gratitude, friends, family , and community, especially at the holiday time, when we may feel most alone and vulnerable, rather than cheery, generous, and festive. Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” adapted by Jefferson Mays, Susan Lyons, and Michael Arden, now in its run at the Geffen Playhouse, does just this, as the tremendously talented Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife; Yes, Prime Minister!) delivers his own unique take, filled with both drama and levity in equal sums. He impeccably gives voice to Marley, Cratchett, Tiny Tim and all the rest . The audience is transformed, along with Scrooge himself, from a world of darkness, despair and burden into a realm of glistening light and affirmation of hope. Mays deservedly garners a standing ovation at each and every performance. He remarkably, in a solo show, portrays each character so vividly, that the audience literally feels their presence. Scrooge had his eyes on them, as he heard them recite “God bless us, everyone.” Something good has got to come from a story like this.. and indeed it does. The beautiful, poetic dialogue also captures the nuance, moment and setting, such as, “ Xmas eve, with candles flaring on a cold, biting night ; palpable fog…” a year older, not richer.” And such descriptive, visceral words of the festive holiday dinner scene makes it come to life onstage: “golden goblets, custard cups; chestnuts sputtering on the fire.” One could really feel the spirits of Christmas ghosts past, present , and future, with a glimmer of hope and comfort foreshadowed. in the words of Irving Berlin, “may your days be merry and bright and all your Christmases be white.”
(310). 208-5454

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A Magical Transformation…in The Nutcracker @ Dorothy Chandler

For those who can never get a full “fix” of holiday music and dance, Christmas luckily comes early at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, performed by the Miami City Ballet. The familiar (exquisite) Tchaikovsky score , combined with the little girl Clara (Mia Niebrugge) and younger brother Fred (Dominick Scherer) and the ensemble of colorful dancers, including angels; toy soldiers; candy canes; sugar plum fairy and the nutcracker, larger than life, makes this performance the quintessential magical holiday treat. Each dance and musical number portrays a message of hope, creative imagination, and the very real possibility that dreams really do come true. With its glittery set, colorful (mostly pastel) costumes and tutus,(beautifully designed by Isabel Toledo), and fairy tale transformation on stage, (set design, Ruben Toledo), the Nutcracker is the perfect holiday staple and a must see this season. The Miami City Ballet, accompanied by the Colburn School Student Dancers, stay loyal to the story, replete with dancing snowflakes, amidst the backdrop of a giant glimmering Christmas tree. A quite nice addition was the opening scene, with a storybook slideshow media presentation, as a prelude to the magical story about to unfold. The dancers paint a picture perfect image of a party we’re all invited to, with the most magical part being the chance to see it through the young children’s perspective and wide eyed innocence. Of particular note is Nathalia Arja, who dazzles as the Sugar Plum Fairy, alongside her cavalier, Rainer Krenstetter. Truly, every dancer in this production is gorgeous, with fluttery movements and superb choreography. Every scene of “The Nutcracker “ is sure to cast a powerful spell and a definite winner to escape the ‘holiday blues.’

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Keep your Head up… in “The Bitter Game” @ The Wallis

“The Bitter Game,” which just completes its run at the Wallis Annenberg Promenade Terrace, is a sophisticated, honest telling of a hugely important subject matter affecting our society today, more than ever, and that is: black lives matter. Keith A. Wallace literally walks the audience through the ill fated day of the life of Jamel Smith, and handles this portrayal with poise, finesse, and clarity, along with an impressive wide range of emotion. By show’s end, there is nary a dry eye, and the audience feels completely connected to Jamel Smith and his family, and can vividly visualize all that he went through in his short lived life, as an African American young man. This true story, much like many other stories of lives cut short and gone too soon, provides a platform for a star making performance for the innately talented Wallace. The show is unique in that it is held in the courtyard of the Wallis, and the audience walks from sequence to sequence, as the depth and sadness escalates. It begins with levity, as Jamel plays a game of hoops in his Philly neighborhood, amidst the music and friends in a neighborhood block party. This solo show is indeed a brilliant balancing act between dark & light; anger & optimism; white privilege & black fury, with theatre being the perfect galvanizing force for social change. In a safe space, it tackles this serious ongoing issue we face today, of racism and police violence in staggering numbers. Keith Wallace delivers a stunning, heart felt performance. Perhaps the most memorable part of the show was the final scene, where the audience members are led to a shrine, as it were, and are given candles and the opportunity to name out loud the numerous victims of police brutality; truly a gathering storm/crescendo of ferocity and feeling. This literally brought to light the truth behind people who experience this unjust treatment daily and the grieving mothers left behind. It’s been too long a silence on this matter. Keith Wallace is a poignant speaker/symbol for Jamel Smith. This epidemic has been non stop and we need change.

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From Russia … with love @ Jewish Women’s Theatre

Having the privileged opportunity to visit Moscow last October, on a Jewish Federation sponsored mission, it was that much more meaningful to attend “The Cold War Gets Hot,” a Jewish Women’s Theatre event held at the Wende Museum. This show, titled “Past and Present,” featured mostly true, autobiographical stories of Russian Jewish Americans, telling their personal narratives of being born in the former Soviet Union and now living in America. A Safam song kept playing in my mind, as I watched each scenario: “We are leaving Mother Russia; we have waited far too long… when they come for us, we’ll be gone.” To introduce the evening, Ronda Spinak, JWT’s Artistic Director, eloquently stated, “making a connection between the past and present, the majority of the vignettes are true stories ; and the culture of fear, festering in America today, continues to affect us all.” A beautiful, melodic Russian lullaby started off the show, followed by passionate, heartfelt renderings of intriguing stories of courage and bravery. The first story dealt with growing up in a warm Jewish household, yet laden with shame. One woman spoke of her ultimate dream and sacrifice of emigrating to America amidst her lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. When she arrived at the American embassy, to join her husband in America, on Thanksgiving, no less, they rejoiced in reunion, with turkey, cranberry sauce, and the rest… Russian food, of course! She’s now here 10 years, not an MD, but a PHD in public health! Another vignette was the story of Leonid Feldman, who basically felt he was taking baby steps, when conducting outreach to Israeli immigrants. He eventually became a rabbi, and after that, a Bar Mitzvah. Yet another story, by Nadia Kalman, was of a man who realizes an essential organ is missing, his nose! He drank vodka to dull the pain, both literal and figurative, as he adjusts to a new life, a new home, a new country with only one constant, his beloved daughter, whom he “remembers singing to sleep in Leningrad.” Eventually, the performers shared stories of the various individuals becoming accustomed to America and even created poetic metaphors: “the streetlights looked blue, like the snow in Leningrad and St. Petersburg.” Perhaps one woman summed up everyone’s mixed feelings perfectly: “I got so homesick; I left everything I knew and loved; but… I was free.”

For upcoming shows and information:

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“Cal in Camo,” now in California @ V.S. Theatre

PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is all too common these days, and so therefore will resonate with many an audience member of “Cal in Camo,” now at The Rogue, presented by Red Dog Squadron and V.S. Theatre.
Cal (Bree Turner) is suffering from post partum, starved for familial belonging, yet her new little ‘bundle of joy’ just isn’t bringing it for her. Meanwhile, her brother, Flynt (Tim Cummings) , a veteran, is grieving over his wife, and does not know how to cope as well. Cal’s husband, Tim (Brad Raider), the perennial optimist is trying his best to remedy their current situation of living in an isolated starter house above a sinkhole, and desperately trying to keep his family ‘afloat,’ as a traveling salesman, promoting flavored craft beers. Directed by Amy Harmon and written by William Francis Hoffman, the premise is a clever construct, with plenty of dramatic tension to mesmerize the audience throughout the 90 minute production, without intermission. States Harmon, “It’s like a primal pulse…about fighting for one’s individual survival while trying to save the pack.” The VS Theatre and Red Dog Squadron yet again, live up to their stellar reputation of providing a compelling story and credible, vulnerable characters that the audience cannot help but feel empathy towards. Flynt is a standout, a man of few words, yet so personally attached to an inanimate object , an antique rifle, and it’s apparent his wisdom innate and he has his ‘finger on the pulse’ of his dear sister’s situation. A particular sentimental scene is when Tim and Flynt share a beer, bonding over their current predicament and desperately seeking solutions. Each character is dealing with letting go and moving on, facing their fears, in his or her own way, and in this cathartic process, the three form a significant bond through poetic dialogue and reminiscing. Their depth of character develop onstage, as they ‘mourn out loud,’ all the while uncovering secrets and mysteries of yesteryear, such as life in foster care, seeking belonging. This play showcases the talents of three actors, certainly among L.A.’s best, with a remarkable range of emotion, exuding natural chemistry and the ability to reveal how precious life truly is, at the end of the day. With shades of the great writers , such as DH Lawrence’s characters with tortured souls, or Edward Albee’s characters in Zoo Story, and Sam Shepard’s themes (i.e. Buried Child); “Cal in Camo” intersperses light banter with gut wrenching scenes, with intense, almost volatile, violent scenes coming to a forefront. So much angst, tension, and regret fury and come to life as Cal and Flynt come to terms with their dysfunctional childhood, with their anger and fear swerving beneath the surface. Sibling rivalry and dysfunctional families are an age old theme, even stemming back from biblical days; and “Cal in Camo” is sure to stir raw emotions from all who see it.

Through Nov. 16
8pm Thursdays through Saturdays
3pm Sundays
323 7394411
VS Theatre 5453 W. Pico

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Love Amidst the Bleachers in “Double Play”

Rating: 5 stars The Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre in Larchmont presents “Double Play,” written by Dennis Danziger and directed by Matthew Leavitt. This play is so timely, as we’ve just completed the 2018 World Series and are still in baseball fervor mode! The play involves a couple Herbert and Rosalie (Johnathan Tchaikovsky and Kim Hamilton), who ‘meet cute’ outside Yankee Stadium, Bronx early one morning September 1981. The two lonely hearts are desperately seeking love and belonging yet obsessed with their careers /hobbies; Herbert as a journalist/researcher; and Rosalie, a die hard Yankees fan and memorabilia collector. Herbert is immediately smitten and fascinated by Rosalie and proceeds to interview her, while Rosalie is more cautious in starting up any relationship. The play is full of witty dialogue, and even non baseball conossieurs will quickly catch on. The plot is consumed with these two individuals, each searching for a soulmate. Some memorable lines include: Rosalie stating nostalgically, as she looks at her beloved baseball cards of Mantle, Aaron, and DiMaggio; “if you boys were alive, you would not let them tear this down,” and Herbert in bewilderment, “who’s gonna steal your place in line today? There’s no game today and no one cares about your auction!” Eventually, the two fall for each other…and end up enlightened. As their conversations deepen outside the walls of the great Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth built, their relationship evolves naturally over time. Once antagonistic and reserved, but then leaning into a mutually empathic, understanding friendship… and eventually marriage. When watching this endearing friendship blossom into love, you ‘gotta have heart,’ and really root for these underdog eccentrics. Herbert’s in luck with his ‘fan research’ study, as he examines and analyzes Rosalie’s unusual, mostly superstitious philosophy, that “you gotta be the first one in line when the tickets go on sale ; otherwise the Yankees won’t win!” She continues her banter, “ I don’t need friends , I got the Yankees.” The crowd watching this play will surely be tempted to “go wild,” and break out with a song of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” This play symbolizes the transition of the classic old days of baseball… to modern day baseball as we know it. At show’s end, the characters are tempted to bid on their “very own box seats for using in their living room, replete with hot dogs and crackerjacks.”
The director stated, “I hope I did the Yankees proud!”

Through October 28
Friday and Saturday 8pm
Sunday 2pm
Stephanie Feury Theatre
5836 Melrose

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“Steambath” sizzles @ the Odyssey

Steambath Sizzles at the Odyssey

Paul Rodriguez, amongst a very talented cast, shines in the execution of the time honored play, “Steambath,” now at the Odyssey Theatre. From the fabulous mind of Bruce Jay Friedman comes this show, that he wrote in 1970, still relevant today, and cannot be extolled enough. Many aspects of the story are reminiscent of the wonderful Albert Brooks’ film, “Defending Your Life,” where the characters are in a waystation, as it were, between heaven and earth. Odyssey’s artistic director Ron Sossi directed “Steambath,” and his reputation in the Los Angeles theatre world is stellar. The Odyssey Theatre has produced so many iconic plays over its 49 year existence, and has garnered many well deserved awards. “Steambath” takes place in a men’s steam room (aka “hell”), and at first we see the sprite Gottlieb (Yusuf Yildiz), Tao dancing to his heart’s delight as he assists God. He dances his way into the steam room, where the men are only dressed in towels. One by one they reveal themselves, and tell their ‘back story.’ A former struggling stock broker (Brian Graves), tells of his rise and fall with the dalliance of the market. Two young gay men (DJ Kemp and Devan Schoelen), who both were in love with the same beautiful boy to tragic circumstances, meet the same fate as an old timer, (John Moskal), who has enjoyed a colorful life as a cab driver and merchant marine. He constantly tiffs with Beiberman (Robert Lesser), who lives his life as an iconoclast extraordinaire, with offensive habits like belching, farting, and spitting orange pits, while railing about fears of anti-semitism. A standout is Tandy (Jeff LeBeau), a quintessential Everyman, who is divorced, has an eight year old daughter, and is trying valiantly to write the history of Charlemagne. As the only female amongst this motley crew is Meredith (Shelby Lauren Barry), an ethereal spirit who wafts dreamlike into the very male dominated sphere and proceeds to take a shower, with steamy smoke as her cover (a very creative effect). She provides the feminine take on this group’s predicament: they’re all dead and nervously awaiting their fate. The guy who runs this establishment, all dressed in white, is none other than Paul Rodriguez, who like in “Waiting for Godot,” and”No Exit,” plays God, in the form of a Puerto Rican wise guy, who at the play’s onset, pronounced the demise of the differing, obnoxious characters, to their humorous deaths, respectively. The amazing thing about this production is that the producers wanted to update this already controversial story, adding up to date, modern dialogue reflecting the crazy, Trumpian times we live in! Yet, happily they still left much of the the original material intact, as Friedman’s world is not so different than ours, and cleverly includes ad libs about Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court fiasco, all so germane and powerful. There are other characters who add to this fable, that reminds me of the Chekhov opus, The Cherry Orchard. This is yet another top notch Odyssey collaboration that will not disappoint. Go see it; you’ll be well rewarded. Also deserving mention is set lighting (Chu Hsuan (Seth) Chang); and sound (Christopher Moscatiello) that guide you in and out of this lyrical, amusing, and timely reverie.

Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.

Through December 16
Fridays, Saturdays 8pm
Sundays 2pm
* also Wednesdays 8 pm , nov 28 and dec 5
* Thursday 8pm nov 5
For tickets: (310)477-2055
Instagram : @odysseytheatre

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