A Puzzle, Wrapped in a Theatrical Show, in David Kwong’s “The Enigmatist,” @ The Geffen

A night of mind blowing puzzles, enigma, and mystery brought the audience into the world view of genius puzzle master David Kwong, in his premiere performance of “The Enigmatist,” now showing  at the Geffen Playhouse.  Kwong hosted and entertained, throughout the evening, bedazzling his audience, as they watched in wonderment, as, mysteriously clues and puzzle pieces fell into place before their very eyes.  A self proclaimed fan of New York Times puzzle creator Will Shortz, Kwong, along with audience interaction, created an actual crossword puzzle on the spot, truly my highlight of the show.  This show was illustrious, on the level of the magic shows performed on the world renowned Magic Castle of Hollywood, or on the Las Vegas stage, a la the likes of David Copperfield or even Harry Houdini.  Perhaps, the greatest trick of all, was that this show allowed audience to return to the physical space of a theatre, post pandemic,  and let all worries evaporate and poof, disappear.  Pure escapism at its finest.  All pandemic related fears and worries vanished, as Kwong transformed the evening into a delightful narrative of puzzle solving, right from the start, as the theatre goers entered the lobby, and were presented with four puzzle challenges that continued til show’s end.  He creatively tied all the clues together into a sophisticated package, sure to stun even the most savvy of puzzle champions.  Some lucky audience members were even invited to step onto the action onstage, as the show was interactive and engaging throughout.  A personalized connection between the performer and audience was truly a part of the inherent magic.  Perhaps magicianDavid Kwong said it best, “Illusion is all about commanding people’s attention.  The brain can’t handle two pieces of info at once.”  This  puzzle genius extraordinaire, brought interlocking pieces of joy to last much longer than just this one night. 

http://www.geffenplayhouse.org

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A Puzzle, Wrapped in a Theatrical Show, in David Kwong’s “The Enigmatist,” @ the Geffen

night of mind blowing puzzles, enigma, and mystery brought the audience into the world view of genius puzzle master David Kwong, in his premiere performance of “The Enigmatist,” now showing  at the Geffen Playhouse.  Kwong hosted and entertained, throughout the evening, bedazzling his audience, as they watched in wonderment, as, mysteriously clues and puzzle pieces fell into place before their very eyes.  A self proclaimed fan of New York Times puzzle creator Will Shortz, Kwong, along with audience interaction, created an actual crossword puzzle on the spot, truly my highlight of the show.  This show was illustrious, on the level of the magic shows performed on the world renowned Magic Castle of Hollywood, or on the Las Vegas stage, a la the likes of David Copperfield or even Harry Houdini.  Perhaps, the greatest trick of all, was that this show allowed audience to return to the physical space of a theatre, post pandemic,  and let all worries evaporate and poof, disappear.  Pure escapism at its finest.  All pandemic related fears and worries vanished, as Kwong transformed the evening into a delightful narrative of puzzle solving, right from the start, as the theatre goers entered the lobby, and were presented with four puzzle challenges that continued til show’s end.  He creatively tied all the clues together into a sophisticated package, sure to stun even the most savvy of puzzle champions.  Some lucky audience members were even invited to step onto the action onstage, as the show was interactive and engaging throughout.  A personalized connection between the performer and audience was truly a part of the inherent magic.  Perhaps magicianDavid Kwong said it best, “Illusion is all about commanding people’s attention.  The brain can’t handle two pieces of info at once.”  This  puzzle genius extraordinaire, brought interlocking pieces of joy to last much longer than just this one night. 

http://www.geffenplayhouse.org

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Hello Again! Theatre World in “Hello World,” @ the Write Act


      “Hello World” marks the miraculous and exciting reentry of theatre post  pandemic shutdown, at the Write Act Repertory in North Hollywood.  It appropriately showcases playwright Tom Misuraca’s latest brilliant world of one acts, validating the amazing quality of this company’s productions. I, personally, was thrilled to hear of the reopening, as Write Act’s presentation of these one acts are the best that L.A. small theatre offers.

       Each vignette is beyond original. The performance owes credit to the stellar directors behind each act: Darrin Yalacki; Richard Lucas; Anne Mesa; and Sebastian Munoz. “Button,” featuring Freda Yifan Jing and Rafael Hernandez, takes a refreshing new look at the world of office life, and the pointless ritual of pressing buttons, sure to resonate and push the audience’s hot buttons. At scene’s end, the two walk out of the office door, into what looks like a promising future. “Backing Out,” starring Lizzie Czerner, Skip Pipo, and Emma Toureau, tells the story of a dysfunctional family, who, upon the frustrating situation of backing out of a narrow space, come to the realization that the grass is not always greener in another family’s backyard, realizing material objects aren’t always the key  to happiness. “Cocktail Party,” with Dean Ghaffari and Michael J. Treat, tells the story of two businessmen at a cocktail party, that appears more like a child’s tea party.  Yet, the audience comes to realize that these larger than life ‘real’ guests provide more unconditional, however unconventional love, than ever imagined.  The scene paints a picture of human connection at its rawest.  “What’s Different” showcases Ron Gabaldon and Skip Pipo reminiscing over life and it’s never ending changes. The two characters are truly caught in a figurative tug of war, as one man wonders aloud how his friend has changed, as the two conclude, that ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ But the one thing that remains constant is their friendship.  “Voice Over,” showcasing Freda Yifan Jing and Michael J. Treat, takes an original look at the world of dating, whether in the form of blind dates, speed dates, or online.  This scene reveals the passive/aggressive nature of getting to know one another and the fine art of listening.  “Goodbye Cruel World,” highlighting Ron Gabaldon; Jenna Herz; Matt W. Kim; and Paula S. Long, brings the production full circle, as this unusual family uses a full gamete of emotions to take one last look at life as they knew it on the planet earth. This scene brings to mind a profound book I recently read, called “The Humans,” by Matt Haig.  

     Each of these one acts takes sensitive themes we face in this world, such as love, loss, and ‘this too shall pass,’ with dialogue so relevant and resonant to today’s audience.  Each of these six winning performances tell the lives and stories of disparate, disaffiliated individuals, yearning for connection, ready to say hello (or goodbye) to our wonderful, whimsical world.

Through August 15th

http://www.writeactrep.org

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“Rent” Worth its Weight in Gold @ Jaxx Theatre

My first experience seeing “Rent,” the iconic musical extravaganza, was in 1996, at the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway. Now, celebrating its 25th anniversary, the talented young members of the Jaxx Theatricals Conservatory rise to the challenge of bringing an upbeat, vibrant revival of Jonathan Larson’s classic show to the Jaxx Theatre in Hollywood. Much to my pleasant surprise, this group of powerhouse superstars, directed and choreographed by Jill Burke and Jeremy Lucas, after only three weeks of intensive rehearsals, brought a Broadway caliber show to this stage west of NYC. The stage design (Steve Kimmel) replicated the Broadway set, transporting us to a realistic East Village neighborhood, with a junkyard sculpture on one side and a live band on the other. The cast of characters use the set freely as their magical playground throughout the show. A production of this ever relevant, timely, dark, yet hopeful Bohemian rock musical proves to be a top notch stellar hit, showcasing fine talents, such as Eugene Boyd/Andrew Palacios (Mark), Julian Hennech/Jayden Bluestein (Roger), Stuart Kennedy/Archer Isaacson (Tom Collins), Apple Owens/ Maya Palacios(Mimi), Tori Swick/ Madeline Kimmel(Maureen) Mayumi Rhone/Peyton Nunokawa(Joanne), and David Bautista/Henry Neujahr (Angel), to name a few. With shades of “Hair,” “Tommy,” “Godspell,” and “In the Heights,” this story begins with the premise of transplanting the Parisian bohemians of Puccini’s La Boheme to the grimy urban jungle of 1989 New York, plagued by the AIDS crisis, and the epidemic of devastating homelessness, not too unlike the scenes of our own backyards in Los Angeles, a story way too close for comfort to home/ reality. Enter the stage Mark and Roger on Xmas Eve, in their lower east side loft, so authentic in their character portrayals, as they deal with an incoming phone call from Mark’s mother (Cate Dietschak/Maddie Delbridge), consoling her son on the recent loss of his girlfriend, Maureen to her lesbian lover Joanne. Then, they hear from their landlord Benny (Morgan Rhone) demanding rent payment. The plot quickly thickens and evolves into a literal ‘dog eat dog,’ ‘rat race,’ a perilous survival against heartbreak, angst, illness, and eviction, each in it’s own way a stressor of the day. A true showstopper is when Mimi knocks on the door with a request of Roger to “Light my Candle.” Sparks literally and figuratively fly in this illuminating musical number. The attraction and chemistry between the two is palpable, yet Roger shyly backs away. Mayumi Rhone/Peyton Nunokawa, as Joanne, display magnetic charisma, in the duet with Mark in the tantalizing “Tango Maureen.” Through amazing dramatic flair, combined with impeccable choreography, and polished vocal belting, the entire ensemble reveals quite a range of emotion and uber talent. The members of Jaxx Theatricals, at curtain up, are for certain, the new kids in town, to keep an eye on. While ‘Rent’ tends to have a camp/cult rock following, perhaps this is why it has sustained the test of time throughout many ‘seasons of love,’ with universal appeal for all genders and ages, spanning the generations, from its beginnings in the 90’s to current day. Each performance (both opening and closing casts) was a standout and truly a larger than life event. Some of the musical numbers that struck a particular chord with me (pun intended) were “Seasons of Love,” “La Vie Boheme,” and naturally, the signature tune, with reprise, “Rent.”

http://www.jaxxtheatricals.org

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From Anatevka to America; “Tevye in New York” @ the Wallis


What happens when Tevye leaves Anatevka and comes to America?  Such is the premise in “Tevye in New York,” written by, and starring Tom Dugan, now in its debut at the Wallis Annenberg In Beverly Hills.  Who knew that Tevye was a man of genius, highbrow wit and dry humor, as he converses with the audience (and himself) in his signature style. 

In a clever, imaginative, and most original adaptation of the classic story of Tevye, the milkman, by Sholom Aleichem, Tom Dugan brings to life this beloved character as he enters the ‘promised’ new land of New York.  The playwright cleverly blends past, present, and future of Tevye, and reveals the character’s innate wit and charm, with many ‘inside’ references to Fiddler on the Roof.  What happens to Tevye, Golde and their daughters, once they pack up and leave Anatevka is the show’s focus. This innovative production forgoes an elaborate set, focusing mainly on Tevye and his treasured pushcart, and the building he dreams of, a grocery with his dear friend Lazar Wolf.  Apropos to the July 4th Independence Day theme, this show premiered at this time of year, adding an extra bit of sentiment and schmaltz to the overall festive theme.  A true immigrant tale of ‘coming to America.’

The night I attended, one enthusiastic theatre goer shrieked, ‘yay, live theatre again,” at show’s start.  Her excitement set the tone for the exuberant evening and relaxed setting of the outdoor courtyard at the Wallis. As sirens rang in the background at one point in the performance, Dugan used his improvisational skills, fully staying in character, and stated , “ I wonder who they’re  coming after now!”  This story is about Tevye, a real man, under a new set of circumstances, maintaining his life, dignity, sanity, and dreams for a bright future.  The show begins as Tevye (Dugan), in patriotic spirit channels and reminisces the likes of John Philip Souza, Woodrow Wilson, and George M. Cohan, literally setting the tone of the evening. One virtually feels amidst a celebratory New York Independence Day parade or on the shores of Ellis Island. A silver lining of the show is how Dugan’s descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells pay homage to the Lower East Side, replete with Gus’ pickles, Yonah Schimmel’s knishes, and frothy egg creams awaken the senses and bring visceral images to life onstage.  Tevye goes on to discuss his new ‘career’ as a dairy pushcart vendor, while his eldest daughter Tzeitel takes a new husband, while Hodel the ‘revolutionary’ is still married to the ‘radical’ Perchik (in a Siberian prison), and dear Chava, always the ‘troublemaker.’

He still loves and treasures his wife Golde, after much more than 25 years, “with a heart of gold, valuing more riches than money,” and his best friend and confidant is now Ulysses the horse rather than his beloved milk cow, sharing ‘what the good book says.’  Tevye quips that ‘if he were rich,’ he’d dine on a feast of chicken, geese, challah, and drink whiskey to his heart’s content. Superstitions of European Jewry are reference, such as red ribbons on a baby’s crib and a lucky wimpel, as Tevye whimsically wonders with gratitude about his ‘sometimes good luck and fortune, l’chaim, to life,’ in the new world, his new home.  Keeping steadfast to his Jewish ‘tradition,’ he also adapts to a new lifestyles s American as baseball, adapting to pay phones and all the newness, like ‘the big green lady,’ none other than the Statue of Liberty, with Emma Lazarus’s eternal poem recited, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning  to breathe free…”.  He mentions the town gossip who moonlights as a yenta (matchmaker, matchmaker), and sunrise turns to sunset, the days turn to weeks.  Along with levity, serious events such as the tragic Triangle shirtwaist factory fire are intertwined, adding a chronology and historical reference. Despite all the hardships, Tevye exclaims, “everyday is a gift,” as he appreciates “a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” with the excitement of a new kid in a penny candy shop, and calls  Sholom Aleichem the ‘Jewish Mark Twain,’ perhaps the most clever one liner of the show’s dialogue.  Dugan’s language is precise, poetic, and pulls at the audience’s emotional heartstrings.  As we vicariously re-live Tevye’s American dream, we delight in the tale he weaves with nostalgic yarn, a mix of wit, elan, sentimentality, and humor. A most memorable moment, and perhaps, a showstopper, was when, at curtain call, Tom Dugan(as Tevye), bowed theatrically, revealing what an exuberant, vibrant man he is, the perfect man for this role. Luck is on his side, in this amazing performance. 

Through July 25th

http://www.thewallis.org

(310) 746-4000

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Listen to your ‘inner voice’ @ Geffen Stayhouse’ “The Door You Never Saw Before”

Each child (of any age) got the chance of a lifetime to experience laughter, song, humor, and puzzles, while listening to the  voice inside their own head, in this whimsical, musical interaction hour and a half of fun. This show, “The Door You Never Saw Before,” written by Matt Schatz; directed by Katie Lindsay; and featuring Michael Faulkner, Shyla Lefner, and Gabrielle Maiden, is just what any doctor would order for parents and children stuck at home during the pandemic quarantine.  With clever lines of dialogue and lyrics, such as “stuck in lockdown, tear the clock down,” and “clap your hands if you want to open the door,” the viewing audience is led on an obstacle course of sorts, with various props and cues, all neatly supplied in a gift suitcase, sent to each household prior to the show.  One such item is a colorful key, a definite must have, to enter the door you never saw before. Another fun prop is glasses, literally, a visual aid to seeing the colorful woods in a much less scary, non threatening way. The participants don the fun glasses to “look like students” during their magical learning adventure through zany hijinks, all the while learning new vocabulary. Fun fact: metal, medal, meddle, and mettle are homophones and we’ve all needed mettle(resilience, strength) this past year and a half.  Words aren’t always what they seem. Also, throughout the show, viewers choose between options, such as ‘library’ or ‘lost and found,’ in order to join smaller breakout rooms, a show within a show, as it were. Each of us are sure to learn something new we never knew, by show’s end. The show is a fun travel through lands of adventure, travel, education, and music in the most random, amusing way.  The ensemble encourages everyone to find their superpowers within and never feel defeat.  Michael, Shyla, and Gabrielle are quite the naturals in bringing out audience members’ (particularly kids), reactions and suggestions, particularly in which direction to take next.  The children in the zoom audience of the matinee show I attended were completely mesmerized from show’s start to finish; they especially liked the suitcase prop with all its wondrous surprises. There is life beyond pandemic, not just living life stuck at home, but rather opening the door you never saw before. 

http://www.geffenplayhouse.org

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“Someone Else’s House: Worth A Virtual Visit @ Geffen Stayhouse

I received my gift box, in suspenseful anticipation of the Geffen Stayhouse’s newest virtual show, “Someone Else’s House,” written by award winning multimedia artist Jared Mezzocchi, and directed by Margot Bordelon, in collaboration with Virtual Design Collective.  The box’ contents included a sage scented candle to set the mood amidst dimmed lights, (the most ideal way to view the show), and a packet of photo cards, replete with historical birthdates and genealogy of the Johnson family who resided in a 200 year old New England house, in Enfield, New Hampshire, with a tale of a true life haunting in its very walls.  A mix of ‘scary ghost story, told around a campfire and a delving into a haunted family tree, aiming to get to the ‘root,’ “Someone Else’s House” is an interactive show, where each audience member’s input makes up an intrinsic part of the story. 

We all have an innate sense of curiosity and wonder especially of things supernatural , macabre or haunting nature.  As a child, I was scared to death of ghosts; now, as an adult, I seek them out as glimmers, spirits, and remnants from my past. Something creepy this way comes in this production, as each new revelation and plot twist has the viewer mesmerized.   Haunting melodic music enhances the intrigue of the story, a true asset to the show.  So much history within the walls , floors , windows , roof of this one home, leads to a mention of a slaughtering cellar. Incidents in this house caused  such trauma to Mezzocchi’s brother (revealed, third person) that, no doubt, terrorized him for his whole life.  The house is a symbolic time  capsule, where the family history was never deleted, but rather was captured in little moments of time.  

The audience is provided with authentic looking snapshots and genealogies of the Johnson clan, replete with captions and backstory from one generation to the next. The photos look realistic, as if frayed, yellowed, and from another era long past, with only ghosts lingering,  yet nowhere in sight.Rather than moving on to the future, the presenter wishes to delve into the past and explore myth or reality; it’s up to the audience to ultimately decide. The viewers virtually enter ‘someone else’s house,’ and cross  the secret portal from the living to the dead, meeting the ghosts that linger in this weird creepy space. Just as one hopes to run as fast as possible, what appears to be real blood is found splattered out of nowhere.  This leads to an inventory and assessment of the room and situation. as the plot thickens. In the age of 23 and me, how could one not be engaged in knowing where one’s family came from and biological roots, the genes that make up each individual, as part of the whole.  We encounter people we  didn’t know, yet yearn to discover  their secrets and mysteries. 

As curiosity is a simple fact of human nature, the show’s narrator does a superb job in encouraging each viewer to think, “What do I do now?”  “Someone Else’s House” is a literal metaphor for Thomas Wolfe’s premise, “you can’t go home again.”  The audience is virtually taken hostage to be an engaged part of the story, putting on their super sleuth thinking caps.  Upon opening the Pandora’s box of sorts, one becomes an integral  part of the story, as each person is assigned to represent and introduce two or three of the family members, telling the history or ‘her story.’  One is compelled to believe horrifying, traumatizing events occurred, and the notion of ‘you can hide but cannot run,’ becomes surreal.  In the world today, rampant with childhood traumas, this story is a top chiller, the making of a quintessential horror movie, or Broadway production.  Grand special effects and ghost silhouettes would be wonderful additions in a live setting for a future date. Disclaimer: this show is not for the faint of heart: one may  vicariously  feel the narrator’s visceral descriptions of pricking sensation in eyes , worry building up in chest; and  gathering in throat. We tend to think one dimensionally about houses and buildings rather than what goes on behind closed doors. 

Watching the story of someone else’s house is sure to ensure the viewer’s appreciation of one’s own abode, no matter how humble, particularly in this year of sheltering in place. 

‘Someone Else’s House’

Where: Geffen Stayhouse virtual theater via Zoom

When: 6 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursdays, 6 and 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends July 3.

Tickets: $75.00 per household. (subject to change).

Info: (310) 208-2028 or www.geffenplayhouse.org

Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

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Mary Todd Lincoln, Interrupted…in “The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln”

The stuff of good theatre involves the storytelling of real people, real life ordeals and struggles, complex situations, and ability to endure. And that’s what fine drama should be all about. Such is the case in “The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln,” written and performed by Tom Dugan, and directed by Shelby Sykes. In a post show ‘talk-back’ at a recent performance, the question arose: ‘what made Mary tick,?” certainly a question many a psychiatrist pondered. Madness? Insanity? Manic Depression? After spending many a day in either the attic or cellar, Mary Todd Lincoln, and her state of mind remains to this day, a subject of much controversy. Dugan portrays quite a sentimental moment between her courtship with President Abraham Lincoln, when he approaches her and states, “I want to dance with you in the worst way.” Mary teases back: “you have fulfilled your request, dancing the worst way possible.” This choice of dialogue adds the much needed levity to a rather dark sequence of tragic events in Mary’s life, including the sudden assassin of her husband and devastating loss of her children. The trauma and loss she endured creates layer upon layer of character depth and dimension which Dugan’s solo show impeccably offers. Dugan uses creative license to reveal her character, both strengths and struggles. In a most creative surprise, Dugan actually took on the role of Mary Todd Lincoln, as the original actress had to bow out. This incident indeed proves the adage, “the show must go on!” He found a refreshing way to portray a difficult figure in history, one who is often unlikeable and hard to understand. Although many previous stage, page, and screen depictions of this infamous First Lady have been far harsher, in this production we get a glimpse of the ‘brains behind the president,’ as his closest, cherished advisor. She is given a fair shake, quite a breakthrough to achieve. As one theatergoer observed, “we got a glimpse of Mary Todd Lincoln on a good day!” The drab, muted colors of the set decor further add to the tone of the show and flavor of the story. Despite reaching her breaking point with little or no coping skills, Mary Todd Lincoln had a husband with unwavering loyalty. One most poignant, vivid scene in the show was the reenactment of that fateful night at Ford’s Theatre, a play within a play, as it were, where dark pools of blood stained Mary Lincoln’s clothes, as her husband, sitting beside her, is shot. She loses her heart of hearts, her soul mate, as well as her children, all the loves of her life. When she was young, she was afraid of ghosts, yet later in life, she wished to draw them near. Ghosts and spirits haunted the widow Lincoln throughout her life, and in this show we see her emotions get the best of her, with the consuming grief burning within.

Tom Dugan’s ‘backyard playhouse’ is the ideal venue to illustrate and elevate the history playing out onstage. At every twist and turn throughout the production, we learn a new aspect of Mary Todd Lincoln’s formative years that shaped her into the extraordinary woman she grew to be. How incredible that this one person show brought her story, her struggles, her ultimate survival, to life onstage. Her spirit will remain with us forever.

through May 1st

Fridays and Saturdays 8 pm

reservations: dbptickets@gmail.com

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Mind Blowing Magic @ Theatre 40

A night of magic, mentalists, mimes, and mystery brought the audience back to the vaudeville days of the Orpheum Circuit Tour, as Felix Jones hosted and entertained an enchanting evening, so real it was almost hard to believe it was virtual, on a screen! Jones introduced the evening’s theme and performers, all who have performed at the illustrious Magic Castle, and reminisced back to the days of Harry Houdini. The ensemble included Simone Turkington, and mime (Faust) Chris Herron, each waxing nostalgic with vintage costumes and acts. Perhaps the greatest trick of all was that this show, for its entirety of ninety minutes, allows the zoom audience to let all worries disappear. True theatre escapism at its core. All pandemic related fears and thoughts vanished as Felix Jones transformed the evening into a complete narrative of magical feats, illusions, and sleight of hand amazement. Since performers live for the excitement of applause and accolades, the zoom viewers were allowed to unmute themselves, and even step into the action, as the show was interactive and engaging throughout. A personal connection between performer and audience was part of the inherent magic. Perhaps, the wise magician, Felix Jones, said it best,: “It’s not in the stars to hold our destiny, it is within ourselves.” Replete with X-ray specs, and enchanting music boxes, this magic show extraordinaire brought sparks of joy to last much longer than only one evening.

http://www.theatre40.org

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Rethinking the Culinary World in “Bollywood Kitchen” @ the Geffen

In a world currently inundated with the most creative and innovative culinary reality shows streaming on cable networks, the Geffen Stayhouse takes a similar leap in presenting “Bollywood Kitchen: Culinary Theatre.”  Distinguished writer/director/producer Sri Rao takes us on a dazzling, delicious journey through his home kitchen in a virtual show where life story meets cooking demo.  One can ‘virtually’ taste the spices of curry, cumin, cocoa, and chai as they sizzle and come to life on screen.  “Bollywood Kitchen,” based on the writer’s book of the same title, is the epitome of theatre in its rawest form.

As we zoom in from our own living room into Rao’s kitchen, we are transported into an intimate space, where we learn the secret recipe to the performer’s signature recipe, chicken curry, his Indian mother’s most prized dish.  The audience immediately feels an emotional connection, as we enter Rao’s comfort zone and visceral memories of childhood, the most acute ones associated with the taste, smell, and nourishment of his cultures’s food, which defined his formative years.  This one man show is a love letter, an homage of appreciation to his parents and a testimony  to the grounded person he has come today, with both roots and wings. As many brilliant Indian directors and screenwriters such as Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala; Salaam Bombay,) this immersive show provides an opportunity to combine the art of cooking and entertainment, sure to please a foodie’s palate and a theatregoer’s experience.  A central task in many spiritual practices is  let go of fixed habits or rigid ideas such as a traditional  theatre space, and the Geffen has faced the challenge of this pandemic in creating the ‘Stayhouse’ format.  The new and unknown, always frightening, is handled amazingly, as we vicariously cook, eat, and live through Sri Rao’s colorful stories and family anecdotes. 

In advance, the Geffen delivers an impressive “chef’s table Bollywood box,” package to the ticket patron’s door, a delectable, essential kit of Indian spices and ingredients, replete with recipe cards. If one dare wishes, he/she has everything needed to follow along with the live cooking demo in theatrical form.  It’s clear how Rao has soul searched and kept true to his identity as  a connection to his ancestors while also crafting his own life, career and passion in his daily work as an actor, performer and writer. Now he can add ‘culinary creator/chef’ to his impressive list of credits. It’s evident he was drawn to this pursuit almost as a calling, a history he never wanted to forget , yet also a way to reinvent and share this enthusiasm with others. The show is a clear, concrete way to offer the precious gift of his culture, a way to make an ordinary act into something extraordinary.  Sri Rao literally brings to the table, the question of ‘who am I?’ and finds the  answer: the power of self love.  The show’s sights and sounds are brilliant and visceral, bursting off the screen. I found myself more than once, craving each dish and drink, inspiring my own culinary endeavors in the future. As Rao explores how his family, immigrants to America adopted their own way of life, to be themselves, work hard, integrate into the culture, yet remain connected to their past, so too, Rao reveals his way to blend into the melting pot and stay secure within his roots, in this innovative theatre construct. 

In front of our eyes, we see this moment of blossoming and transformation. Theatre at its core exceeds all borders, as it taps into a solo show performer’s life journey, and “Bollywood Kitchen” is exquisite in doing just that.  Experimenting and adding trendy twists of flavor to his childhood meals is a defining element of the show, not only revealing the close bond and respect for his parents, but also honoring their tradition. From generation to generation, he embraces his ‘inner Indian’ culture, feeds his soul, and becomes whole.

The central process of much theatre is  self discovery and a coming of age, coming  to terms with childhood and moving forward. Bollywood Kitchen is Rao’s therapeutic way to discover his life purpose.  The story is one part talk/monologue, but chalk full of delicious memories and backstory, allowing each of us to relish and savor the foods and drinks of India’s cuisine, even including the proper way to cup a scoop of curry into the rice, using one’s hands, rather than utensils! He gives his parents the words they never had the chance to say verbally and this show will definitely change the way one thinks about food, love, and life, and how they constantly intertwine. The show is a universal art piece, filled with life lessons and cooking courses, sure to resonate with every culture, gender, and age. It’s a refreshingly new theatre story and premise, and so necessary at this time when we all seek spiritual nourishment and are hungry for meaning.Eat, drink, pray… sit back, have a cuppa chai and go see and taste “Bollywood Kitchen: Culinary Theatre.”  

http://www.geffenplayhouse.org

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