Steve Spiro scores big in “UK Underdog”

“UK Underdog,” written and performed by Steve Spiro, is the latest talk of the town in regional theatre, now playing at the Zephyr Theatre. Steve Spiro, in his provocative one man show, brings to life onstage his autobiographical experiences, tracing his journey from London to LA and back again. Early on, we learn of incessant bullying and mocking he endured during his formative years. Spiro, in a tour de force performance, re-enacts the characters most important and integral in his life, from immediate family (mother, father, nana) to enemies, best friend, roommate, employer, and even an indirect mention of Jen Aniston (Friends), whom he once dated. His solo performance is replete with precise diction, physical mannerisms, such as talking with his hands, and ‘pretend kick-boxing,’ and all the requisite nuances. His voice and body language reveal his complete range of emotions, from nervous and fearful, to depressed, angry, rebellious, to sensitive, hopeful, and even optimistic. He perceptively states, in a genius line of dialogue: “you can’t change the past, you can only change you.” It is a poignant look at self worth after a life smitten with loneliness, struggling, and a burning desire to overcome obstacles and survive. Spiro’s usage of incorporating references to his family’s favorite TV shows (i.e. Chips, Starsky & Hutch, and Benny Hill), provide a hint of levity and nostalgia, in contrast to the otherwise heavy subject matter. Even a single year of bullying can seem like forever and just yesterday, all at the same time. In this show, one learns, (as Spiro learned, the hard way), of the major price one pays for friendship, acceptance, approval, and temptations and impulses along the way. Of utmost importance, “UK Underdog” looks at bullying incidents that occur in Spiro’s early age (pre Bar Mitzvah). During this time, a web of connected events leads to rising tensions, in which a gang of tough bullies confront and assault him. We witness these stories from the performer’s unique perspective, and how he miraculously evolves from youth to adulthood. This 80 minute one man show keeps the audience on the edge of one’s seat throughout. It is a great way of opening up a once taboo subject , which does not disappoint. The dialogue and deliberation takes the actor (and his viewers) back in time, and not always in an easy, comfortable way. He vividly, almost graphically, recalls of the times he was bullied and punched relentlessly. But something positive finally came from those bad memories. This play has a poignant message for the audience to take away, and see someone come through to the other end. Director Ann Bronston states “Steve’s story is all our stories. How life happens to us, and how, through resilience and determination, seemingly random events shape a life and help us find meaning.” Even though a victim of bullying, Steve was able to rise to the occasion, even taking a job as kick boxing instructor at a gym. He grapples with issues of identity, belonging, and plans for his future ( as his nana incessantly asks him, yet she also did her share of nurturing). All his characters live in him, and he makes each one his own. Steve’s self doubt and adolescent angst sometimes simmers, sometimes brews, yet ultimately he regains confidence and innate strength, and finds his path and ‘new home,’ here in Los Angeles.
His strong, solid writing comes from his experience and what he knows. “UK Underdog” is a provocative, fresh, honest look at a how a young boy transforms himself through sheer will. Steve Spiro gives a heartfelt and heartbreaking performance, and his story is one that will stay with me for a long time, for a myriad of reasons.
*On a side note, all proceeds from the production will benefit Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team, and other selected animal charities and anti-bullying groups, both causes near and dear to Steve Spiro’s heart.

Through Oct 28th
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 8 pm
Sundays 2 pm
Zephyr Theatre 7456 Melrose Ave.
(323)960-7788
http://www.plays411.com/ukunderdog

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Big City Dreams… in “Broadway Bound”

Neil Simon is the quintessential New York comedic playwright (whose genius will be forever remembered and missed); and his play “Broadway Bound” is currently showing at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. Quite bittersweet indeed! Neil Simon has the innate ability to combine pathos and humor in his characters, and does so quite effectively with Kate Jerome (Jill Remez); Ben Epstein (Shelly Kurtz); Eugene Jerome (Josh Reiter); Stanley Jerome (Matthew Nye); Blanche Morton (Maria Spassoff); and Jack Jerome (Mark Sande). This story is a semi-autobiographical account of Simon’s coming of age years in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, aspiring to become a comedic TV/ radio writer. The comedy evolves naturally out of personal family humor, professional drive and ambition. Following “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Biloxi Blues,” “Broadway Bound” is Simon’s farewell ‘swan song,” as it were, of the famed Eugene trilogy. Ironically, as the brothers meet with success, professionally , the family unit begins to unravel. The story is filled with emotion, and plenty of nostalgic punch, as well. Director Howard Teichman does an impeccable job in taking the audience down ‘memory lane,’ in a polished production, replete with authentic period costumes (Shon Le Blanc); and detailed set design (Kurtis Bedford ). One can easily assert that this play is among Simon’s best.

Through October 28th
Miles Memorial Playhouse
1130 Lincoln Blvd. Santa Monica
Fridays and Saturdays 8pm
Sundays 2pm
For reservations:
(323)821-2449
http://www.wcjt.tix.com

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“Infidel” Offers Hope in the Name of God @ the Whitefire

“Infidel,” written by Christopher Vened (known for his solo piece, “Human Identity”), is now in its run at the Whitefire Theatre, Sherman Oaks. It is truly one of the most forceful, provocative and politically relevant shows onstage in today’s theatre scene. Much along the lines of the controversial best seller of the same name, by Aayan Hirsi Ali, this story is a suspense thriller about John Norton (Ted Monte), a literature specialist who is captured by Islamic fundamentalists. This show is sure to keep the audience viewer on the ‘jagged
edge’ of one’s seat, no pun intended. It’s mysterious beyond words when art and culture parallel the horrific real life events of the world and our state of society, (i.e Daniel Pearl), yet even more compelling it is to see such art imitating life. Vened takes a most interesting angle, almost as devil’s advocate, stating, “I wanted to write a play that would humanize these radicals and find a way to liberate them from their fanaticism.” Yet again, the Whitefire keeps up to its stellar reputation of presenting the most cutting edge of theatre productions and timely, often taboo topics, what I fondly refer to as “the HBO of stage.” This playwright and his story is transparent about everything, from terrorists who kill in the name of God; to the notion that artifacts are blasphemous idols; to how hopeless and trapped Norton ultimately felt. One wonders if any hope or faith will prevail towards show’s end. The cohesive cast, including Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari; Ronak Gandhi; Michel Wakim; Nima Jafari; Aneesha Madhok; Edwin Scheibner; and Moses Leon Norton is sure to inspire audiences, and have them thinking, “can culture and religion only divide and separate, or can it idealistically unite and humanize ?”

Through October 7
Saturdays 8pm ; Sundays 3pm
Whitefire Theatre
13500 Ventura Blvd
(323)960-7738
http://www.whitefiretheatre.com

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“26 Pebbles,” Build the World with Love @ Theatre 40

“26 Pebbles” is a play that is a remarkable tribute to the participants and precious souls lost in the national tragedy, known as Sandy Hook, referring to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where on December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adult staff members. Before committing this heinous act, he murdered his own mother in their Newtown home. The show’s set is stark, yet surreal, as it basically consists of 6 childlike, colored blocks, which the actors (Jennifer Lee Laks; Joe Lorenzo; George Villas; Jean Kauffman; Michele Schultz and Roslyn Cohn) perch on, as they deliver this powerful, poetic recollection. At the beginning, there is a comparison between Australia and America , in that quite a few residents of this small town hail from “down under,” and a discussion can be sparked on how so few in their society are killed, as opposed to the U.S. Sadly, the NRA has perpetuated the gun culture to the point of occurrences like Sandy Hook, Columbine, Orlando, and on and on, ad nauseum. The play is positioned like an “Our Town,” or “Under Milkwood,” as we see members of the community come together: the housewife, the Rabbi, the pastor, the father, the teacher, all played brilliantly by this talented ensemble, all trying to deal with the horror of this event. Specifically, that this horror took place in their very own “village,” small town USA, a place where the adults are usually involved in ‘hum-drum’ activity, mostly struggling with the boundless responsibilities of raising children and providing them with all the tools to become ‘good grownups.’ The underlying theme of the show is revealed by words that the cast writes on a chalkboard, words such as love, hope, compassion, and together. To put it simply, they do not wish to be remembered as a place where 26 souls were extinguished, but that their legacy is the gut wrenching decision to move on. Or, as in Buddhist principles, to find their ‘inner peace,’ even though it seemed as if when their children died, a piece of the parents died as well. There are wonderful, symbolic effects used, such as a bell, summoning kids to dinner, which eerily sounded like the one used to sound out the names of the 9-11 victims; also the effective use of candles to symbolically shed some light on the horrific darkness that floods this hapless town; and the use of a backdrop screen that showed an Obama speech, where he talks about gun control and violence. Very few plays have yet delved into this sensitive subject ( possibly, only “Come From Away,”) on Broadway, and director Jules Aaron and writer Eric Ulloa are to be commended on bringing this story to stage. Jules Aaron is the genius who directed this play, and his list of credits and accolades are simply too long to detail here. But the evidence is a stunning production, worthy of the fine work consistently emanating from Theatre 40. This show will certainly invoke the necessary discussion and dialogue that we in America need to have. See “26 Pebbles,” and be richly rewarded.

Through October 14
Thurs. Fri. Sat. 8 PM
Sun. 2PM Mon. 8 PM
(310)364-0535
http://www.theatre40.org

241 S. Moreno Drive
Beverly Hills

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The LA Homeless: from street to screen… in “The Advocates”

This film, which premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2018, will bring the daunting problem of homelessness some much needed exposure and awareness, as it’s gotten overwhelming, significantly in my neighborhood, Koreatown. In years past, if you were to ask a resident of Los Angeles, where are the homeless in the city,? the answer would most definitely be “skid row.” Now, a completely different answer, such as, “on my street corner.” If you go on the website, nextdoor.com, so many complaints nonstop on homeless encampments right in the neighborhood, such as Hollywood and Santa Monica, most likely complaints about homeless, potentially with behaviors leading to crime. Director/producer Remi Kessler hopes to dispel this myth, as it’s easy to blame everything wrong with society with discomfort you see with people struggling. Yet they’ve become an easy target, a scapegoat, as it were, when people are being pushed to their limits in desperate times . Enter the film: “The Advocates,” a particularly different type of documentary on the homeless crisis, with much more hopefulness, featuring professionals and volunteers who genuinely care. States Kessler, “thousands of people out there are pounding the streets, working so hard, hoping to find a solution, and conveying not how bad it is, but how good it can be.” His job has been done, if this film leaves a positive message and new perspective to audience viewers, which it certainly does. Rudy Salinas, of the organization, Housing Works, who is a featured idealistic social worker in the film, states “I’m so proud to be doing this, particularly in Hollywood. Claudia Perez (founder of LA on Cloud 9) and Mel Tillekeratne (Monday Night Missions), also are tireless in their efforts in advocating for the homeless, along with the many volunteers who selflessly help and give of their time, money, clothing , energy, and most of all comosssion and love. Is our city and county doing enough to work on this immense problem? LA is not the place it once was, due to a combination of low paying minimum wage jobs, and increasingly high rent housing, despite measures HHH and H recently passing. States Mel, “ one thing that’s so hard in this film, is each case worker handling 30 cases to a hospital or social service agency, these clients become almost like family members.” Claudia Perez, in the film, portrays someone so dedicated that she often “takes her work home with her.” Anyone can truly end up on the street, if facing a variety of circumstances. In the beginning of making the film, Kessler learned how the county and city are a “huge machine,” yet politicians really do wish to engage the voters and bring them together as a community. “Just one final note: this film will first open( Oct 19)

at the Laemmle theatres in Santa Monica , Pasadena , and North Hollywood, to bring this discussion to Angelenos and engage community.” Go on social media and ‘like’ “The Advocates.” A powerful, beautiful, incredibly important film for the times we live in .

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Forgive…and Move On… in “Jews, Christians and Screwing Stalin”

“Jews, Christians And Stealing Stalin,” is a beautifully constructed play, written by Mark Lonow and Jo Anne Astrow, and directed by Mark Lonow, and is in essence, a light comedy about dark secrets; kitchen table Jewish humor, just as we face the holiest day of the calendar, Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. It is a story of a quintessential New York Jewish family, ala Neil Simon, extremely dysfunctional and irascible, with conflicts abundant. The time is Rosh Hashanah, 1967. It takes place in a boarding house, with bizarre characters that inhabit the establishment. And great conflict always makes for great drama. The first, and most obvious conflict is between grandfather (at the top of the pyramid), Murray Grazonsky (John Pleshette); son David Grazonsky ( Travis York) and grandson Joseph Grazonsky (Hunter Milano). The son and father won’t speak to each other, and an inheritance dispute adds insult to injury. One very sentimental, compelling quote from David (York) was “My life is resting on the hands of my son… who hates me.” All Joseph has ever truly wanted was a father who never abandoned him and a complete family. The playwrights employ a most clever conceit, right from the start, introducing the grandfather (Pleshette), who very much alive onstage, is actually dead, the first shock to the audience. He very humorously introduces himself to the audience, preparing us for how the story will unfold. He adds, “and by the way, isn’t this set gorgeous? The producers spent a small fortune on it.” And indeed, it looks like an off Broadway lavish set design. He is always commenting on how his family treated him, in particular his relationship with wife, radical communist Bubby Minka (wonderfully played by Cathy Ladman). Minka first appears, lighting a cigarette, and extrapolating on the stress heaped upon her to run a ‘nut house,’ with a myriad of eccentrics. Creatively, almost in dream sequence recollection, just as a family member speaks about Murray, he suddenly appears, with a quirky retort. One example is the reference to Minka fudging by selling the stocks of Eastman of camera fame, so in retribution, Murray wishes to leave his estate to grandson instead. This powerful, poignant play has many such messages about atonement, apology, forgiveness, and retribution one would be apt to hear in the Yom Kippur liturgy. One gem of dialogue (among many) was “an apology for the past..and a promise for the future.” Of particular note is Sammi-Jack Martincak, as Joseph’s Southern belle girlfriend Caitlin, who enthusiastically totes and quotes from Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, so eager to please Bubbie Minka. She is polite and unoffending, until she can no longer take the obstreperous David (York), who antagonizes his son Joseph to no end. Adding levity to all the angst and conflict are the medley of original and ‘meshuganeh’ tenants: Lillie Feinstein (the charming Laura Julian); Mr. Goldman (Marty Ross); and Miss Koppelson (Sally Schaub). Alas, the Rosh Hashanah meal that the family so looks forward to, never happens, but Minka’s matzah balls are hard as rocks, so no loss there! Amidst all the chaos and conflicts, will there finally be resolution? Come see for yourself… at the Matrix Theatre. LA theatre-goers are lucky indeed to have such a production in town!

Through Sept 23
Saturdays 8 PM
Sundays 3 PM
Mondays 8 PM
Matrix Theatre
7657 Melrose Ave.
(323)960-4412
http://www.plays411.com/matzohballs

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From hoodlum to hell to hero: George Christie‘s “Outlaw – one man show” @ the Whitefire Theatre

Just thinking of the image of Hells Angels, and the following instantly comes to mind: rough and tumble , leather , tattoos , muscles, bandanas, motorcycles, menacing. All that… and much, much more were part of the lifeblood, sweat and tears journey of former Hells Angel George Christie, as he shares his gritty, heart wrenching tale onstage at the Whitefire in “Outlaw,” his one man show, written and directed by Robert LaPlante; and produced by Charles Lago. Born to a family that were embraced as immigrants (so unlike the America today), George grew up in a respectable middle class family right here in the San Fernando valley, but something about gangs and the ‘bad boy’ reputation of the Ventura club of Hells Angels drew him in. His solo show tells his true story on his own terms, following his three successful books and a History Channel Series. First off, the music preceding the actual show definitely sets the tone and feel of the story: songs such as “It Ain’t Easy,” “Born on a Bayou,” and “I feel Trouble on the Way” are more than foreshadowing. The show then begins with raw footage and news headlines of various incidents and infamous events of the California region of Hells Angels, this motorcycle band of brothers. George Christie bared his soul with his “three strikes and you’re out,” landing him in jail, more than once; and how he often felt the world’s message was “us vs. George Christie, like the whole entire country had a problem with him. He showed a slide of his lonely looking, bare isolated cell, while serving solitary confinement. He stated in one of his many eloquent monologues, “you’re not sure if you’ll land on your feet… but somehow you do.” This show(and Christie’s life) comes full circle, taking place at one of the finest regional theatre spaces LA has to offer, the Whitefire right here in Sherman Oaks, Christie’s stomping grounds. George Christie, now a family man; husband and father, far removed from his haunting past, yet always present to some degree. He recalls the magical, mesmerizing pull that the clubhouse meetings of Hells Angels had on him, “it was a dangerous, yet magic place, where time stood still, where I felt invincible, ‘bullet-proof ,’ among the comraderie of my rider brothers.” It seemed to George a place of intrigue, where you don’t ask questions and you forget for a moment the PTSD as a returning vet. It was here that young George forgot the shame of poverty of his childhood, and had a chance to prove that he’d follow his leader’s word ‘as law,’ and shine like an ‘ever burning candle.’ Christie’s way with words and such visual metaphors is a highlight of his performance, as the audience can literally envision every scenario he portrays. 100% kudos are in order for George Christie, as he takes on a most sensitive, once taboo subject matter, almost considered cult like at one time in history. Of particular sentimental note is when Christie’s own son has notions of joining the group, and Much like the lyrics of “Cat’s in the Cradle ,” the audience can visualize “when you coming home dad, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son…” Hells Angels was always known as an organization you didn’t want to cross, because it could potentially mean deep trouble or even the end of your life. “Outlaw” gives us an inside peek, a bird’s eye view, as it were, a revealing, hard hitting memoir brought to life onstage.

Through August 24
Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays 8pm
Whitefire Theatre 13500 Ventura Blvd
For tickets :
(213)713-9149
Or
http://www.clagoproductions.com
http://www.georgechristieoutlaw.com

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