Suspense in the Air in “Citizen Detective” @ the Geffen

“Citizen Detective” is yet another gem from the creative forces at the Geffen Playhouse. Written and directed by Chelsea Marcantel, and featuring Paloma Nozicka and Mike Ostroski, is a suspenseful whodunnit, actively engaging the zoom audience, to solve the crime, just as police often welcome public citizens as supplemental, essential detectives on the case at hand. In this case, audience members are divided into teams (mine was the gut followers). The audience embraces the cues and clues and take the Hollywood murder mystery into their own hands. At first, it may seem like a challenging virtual game of Clue, with viewers jumping into dangerous waters and unchartered territory, but each person discovers his/her own inner instinct; ultimately working together to analyze each detail of the scene of the crime. The two main characters (Nozicka and Ostroski) serve as both guides and foils to help aide in getting to the truth of the matter, yet also at times confuse the teams with twists, turns, and mistaken identities, much in the same style of Alfred Hitchcock, Agatha Christie, and Rod Serling. Finding the hidden kernel and solving the crime is almost as amazing as the production itself. To get the last piece to the big puzzle is the ultimate reward for all. Citizen journalism and detective work has become all the rage and so necessary in matters of life and death, both on the street and on this stage. In this show, it’s obvious that each audience member gets completely invested, devoting their entire being, mind, and soul into logical deductions, based on both physical evidence and gut instinct. Similar to the recent HBO Max’ “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” intriguing problems and cases can take experienced police forces 30 years to solve, and stymie breakthroughs, until ‘citizen detectives’ and ‘third eyes’ step in. Everybody loves a scintillating game of clue or whodunnit, especially during a stifling pandemic. “Citizen Detective” is brilliant in inspiring attention to detail among the audience sleuth members in a fun, engaging, interactive virtual escape room on screen. This show will leave you mystified and empowered in one. Get your crime drama/mystery genre game on and check out “Citizen Detective.”

through Feb 7, 2021

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Angel Gains her Wings in “Through My Eyes” @ The Whitefire

Angel (Angel Guice) floats in her own little bubble of light and love, as she performs a soliloquy of liturgical poetry, dance, and song. She conveys to the audience viewing on zoom, an intimate sense of her self perception as goddess warrior, as she emphasizes the phrase, “I am strong.” She practices what she preaches, in the form of a daily affirmation: “I matter. If it is to be, it is up to me.” She relays a personal story of visiting her brother while in jail, eliciting empathy from her audience, even at a social distance. She offers tough love, drizzled with encouragement. Her performance mixes a tone of melancholy with vibrant dialogue and powerful music, presenting a one woman show that is anything but one dimensional. She gives glimpses of her family life and the heirlooms of treasures she has inherited, all in the name of staying alive. She prays aloud for bubble to never deflate, reaching up, stating, “God, you’re up there, so I keep my head up and stay focused. It’s clear, from her passion and presence of mind, that the ‘have nots’ must beat the system to get off the streets to become ‘haves,’ and that the pain should be released and transform into joy. Her wisdom and philosophy enables her to find the light out of her darkness, and in turn, allows the audience members to release internal negativities, finding a clear pathway out of hurt, harm, and danger. At show’s end, she proclaims, when recollecting memories of her life in the projects in Atlanta, “I’ll always be street smart, and that bubble of my family…no one could pop it… til one day…” Angel miraculously transforms from a young woman pained by a first love, to a queen, cherished in a second love.

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Natasha McCrea Tells Her Story & Changes Lives in “Evolution of a Love Addict” @ the Whitefire

Loving…letting go…moving on…finding one’s soulmate. Many a self help book, poem, song, film, and theatre performance has been created on said subject. Now, unlike any other, in a superb class of its own, comes renowned author and love healer Natasha McCrea, reprising her one woman show, “Evolution of a Love Addict.” Having performed this show in 2012 in Atlanta, and then four years later in New York, Natasha now graces the stage in Los Angeles, live-streaming from the Whitefire Theatre. Comparing the show from then to now, she states,”back then it was, let me tell you my story for me; eight years later, it’s let me tell my story for others.” Not only has she evolved from a woman addicted to love, sometimes in all the wrong places, but has evolved into a performer, a talent, a star, glistening on stage, carrying a one woman wonder show, with an important message for audiences to hear. As Natasha retells many an anecdote of her first dates to first loves to first marriages, and then repeating the cycle, she shares the sensitive theme of love and loss, and ‘this too shall pass,’ with such vulnerability and pathos, sure to resonate virtually with each audience member, male and female alike. Between blind date, speed dates and meet ups, she finds one man after another, that she must say ‘puff puff pass,’ until the final vignette in the show, a culmination of sorts, where she finally, and in a quite fulfilling moment, states ‘puff puff exhale!’ In the post show q&a, Natasha told viewers about her writing process, and how journaling her own experiences and life lessons has infused her with the ability to empower and encourage others, as a love coach of sorts. One question posed was: “how do you forgive family and people in past relationships, rather than becoming jaded?” Her response : “its much easier to move on, if you can have open dialogue rather than sweep it under the rug.” In remounting her show in 2020, this talented performer is coming from a new stage in her life, “grounded, centered, loving life, bringing my full self to the table.” This life story, filled with gems of wisdom, is sure to land upright into the hearts and minds ready to receive.

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Tell Your Friends to Go See “Tell Him It’s Jackie” @ Dugan’s Backyard Playhouse

Tom Dugan (Wiesenthal, The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln, Robert E. Lee- Shades of Grey) is an innovative playwright/historian, bringing biopic solo shows to the stage, highlighting iconic historic figures. In “Tell Him It’s Jackie,” Dugan’s current production, being performed in the intimate venue of his own backyard, Kait Haire delivers a spot on, larger than life performance of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. In the post show Q&A, when asked how she impeccably ‘nailed’ Jackie’s exact physical expressions, mannerisms, and accent, Kait  stated, “I consumed numerous videos and documentaries of live footage, garnered after her death, as well as studying Natalie Portman’s portrayal in the film, ‘Jackie.’”  Tom added, “I wanted to give her the three dimensional sense of human being” that she truly embodied.  Not only does Kait physically resemble the late First Lady, but she also captures her aura and essence. The audience does not only see a woman filled with grace and dignity, but also gets a glimpse  of obstacles, drama, and temptations in her personal, private life.
At show’s start, Jackie reveals facts about her unusual upbringing, breeding and college life, comparing the title, First Lady,  to a thoroughbred race horse. She also, in two separate lines of dialogue, explains the myth/reality of her young  son being called John John by the public, while John at home.  Life wasn’t as charmed as it seemed, in Camelot, as depicted by her incessant drinking of scotch and whiskey throughout the show.  A poignant, visceral line of dialogue was “this scotch tastes like tragedy.” Her insecurity and ‘on the verge of suicide’ state of mind is real, as she  throws objects throughout the set, almost breaking lamps, and she describes how on that fateful night, she threw a crystal champagne glass, which shattered her television screen, like ‘glass confetti breaking into tiny pieces,” she recalls. The night is June 5, 1968, when Robert Kennedy is shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles. The entire show revolves around Jackie, her reaction that night, while home in New York, and the tension felt by the audience is palpable.  The history of that specific night comes to life once again, center stage, amidst a simple yet detailed set, as Jackie vividly tells her story through tears, shock, and anger.  Each move and gesture tells a thousand stories.  Each word of dialogue precisely depicts Jackie’s intense pain and grief, knocked too many a time by tragedies befalling the Kennedy family.  This period of history is a lot to pack into one single performance.  Adding some much needed levity, she invites a hint of promising new romance into her life with Aristotle 0, towards show’s end.  
Ultimately, Jackie’s story stands for hope, not despair, and she, like each one of us, has a right to be understood.  The playwright, Tom Dugan, is brilliant and masterful at bringing the audience from the worries of current day pandemic to that memorable era, where each viewer is lost in another time and place for at least seventy five minutes, which is truly what good theatre does.

Through Nov. 21

Dugan’s Backyard Playhouse 

Fridays and Saturdays 8pm


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Go Figure “Inside the Box” @ the Geffen

While we have mostly been sheltering in place, trying to solve the mysteries of life amidst a pandemic, puzzler extraordinaire brings it close to home with his all consuming 90 minute interactive zoom show, aptly titled “Inside the Box.” This show brings sparks of clarity and creativity to those who have up til now been puzzled by the concept of ‘virtual theatre.’ Kwong describes himself as spending his whole life obsessed and consumed with an olio of puzzles, ranging from word games that boggle the mind to crosswords and jigsaws. By piecing the pieces together, we can all work as a team to face the enigma of when the “world hit pause,” just six months ago. Kwong goes on to confirm that we all are at our most creative when dealt a curveball or a different set of parameters, and rather than thinking outside the box, we can revert to inside the box, facing each of our teammates, the counterpart squares within the zoom ‘audience.’ The charismatic storyteller pulls out a range of puzzles, mazes, acrostics, and word scrambles out of a Pandora’s box, as it were. Since human nature is to make order out of chaos, the audience members eagerly act quickly to solve and figure out each challenge in what seems like split seconds. The competition is fierce yet friendly, as we remind ourselves, “we’re all in this together,” and each of us is one piece or link to connect to the whole. In one challenge, Kwong presents two visual images to create the country they spell out, such as penguin and eagle to create ‘Guinea.’ He cites the puzzle greats, such as Rubik, Margaret Farrar(crossword specialist) Lewis Carroll (known for his mastery of acrostics), Kobon Fujimara (Tokyo Puzzles); and Martin Gardner (mathemagician), with an extra special nod to crossword puzzle genius Will Shortz of the New York Times.
This show’s premise is a brilliant solution to dealing with our angst inducing conundrum of current events. Families have bonded together lately over turning to a puzzle or maze to bide time during this pandemic; teachers have even incorporated puzzles into distant learning for bonding and cooperation skills. Just as with yoga or meditation, we escape into the moment, we can’t easily think of troubles or worries when engrossed in a good puzzle. Trivial pursuits lead to the pursuit of happiness, and “Inside the Box” leads to a human hivemind, problem solving, connecting the dots, each within his/her own square box.

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“For Goodness’ Sake”…another good show @ JWT

Many a poem, song, film, and theatre production has been written and performed on the subject of finding the good,even amidst difficult situations. Yet nothing comes close to the poignant,powerful, real life, real time stories, as presented, through the modern miracle of zoom, to a captivating audience, in Jewish Women’s Theatre production of “For Goodness’ Sake.”  Each story takes a sensitive theme, one in which the writer has experienced exceptional pressure, and through a magical, moral compass,the goodness seeps through. When introducing the online theatrical salon, artistic director Ronda Spinak spoke of this virtual show, as a “groundbreaking program, told through a Jewish lens.”  The beginning song, written by Sophie Greenbaum, referenced Eve being tempted to eat the apple and learn right from wrong.  One powerful story told of a young woman at her mother’s death bed, regretting why she never asked for the recipe for her delicious soup, and now, as she lay dying, was saddened by ‘too little, too late.” Actress Lauren Aboulafia, in “Super Scar,” recounted her own personal story of the rough, terrifying childbirth of her baby son, now, healthy and thriving.  Her journey was so visceral, reaching the zoom audience with a hardly a dry eye. The story, “Holy Ground,” written by David Chiu, and performed by AJ Meijer, is the narrative of a young man, his first time at the kotel in Israel, in wonderment and awe of the people he encounters and the history surrounding him.  Each story takes on a life of its own, some piece of it certain to resonate with each viewer. That is the true magic of the vignettes presented by JWT at each and every performance I’ve ‘attended.’  “The full hearted, full throated story comes to life as the actors make it their own,” noted one astute audience member in the chat box. JWT fellow Daphna Shull stated, “it’s a wonderful, beautiful thing to have this connection with an artistic community, a family, even, especially when in quarantine. The theme of our show touches upon our society today- – trying to find goodness, truth, humanity, despite the craziness.”  Zoom productions of live theatre are definitely the pioneering trend of our time, allowing the performers to ‘go on virtual stage,   live , yet not hearing audible clapping or reactions. Yet, as one member of the cast, Jasmine Curry, said, in the q &a online, “creating that inner energy inside of us, we’re right here before you.” Actress Rosie Moss added, “we’re all in the journey together.  We may do the work separately, by ourselves, but then press the button, and see all of you!”  Presenting by zoom can be both intimate and exhausting in one, perhaps taking more concentration and effort than performing directly onstage. Yet, the Jewish Women’s Theatre puts it altogether and presents each actor and writer presenting the best of her/his/their craft.

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Brandon Raman creates sacred space… in his one man show.

Brandon Raman performed his livestream solo show, “I Can’t Indian Good,”   at the Whitefire Theatre. His is a stunning one man show that entertains, titillates, and disturbs us all in one. It is written and performed by the multi talented Brandon Raman.  At show’s start, Brandon introduces himself in a ‘show within a show,’ as he is being interviewed by a late night talk show host, ambivalent and insecure of his heritage and identity.  Rather than a proud Bollywood style introduction, he’s meek and in need of a stronger sense of self and pride.  The way Brandon’s character evolves from start to finish is poignant and serves as a great role model for all ethnicities and cultures to take pride in themselves.  Gradually we witness him morphing into a proud, strong man of Indian culture, honoring his mother, grandparents and uncles that came before him, paving the way for greatness.  We come to understand, as does Brandon, his complex, rich history, as he plays the multitude of characters who come to teach him the importance of holding onto the past while reaching towards the future, always with mind and feet planted in the present.  His grasp of nuances, accents, and physical comedy impeccably capture a visual image of each character he portrays.  Brandon is quite the master storyteller,  vividly revealing the persona of each influence on his life journey.  As the writer of his own true  story, he tells how diversity overcomes discrimination.  He displays his loyalty steeped in his tradition, while embracing the new, a juxtaposition, almost as if he’s at war with himself.  He moves about the stage with poise and serenity as he becomes comfortable ‘in his own skin,’ assuming an almost yogic calm, a signature characteristic of Indian culture.  His natural aura will amaze you, as it did me.  Brandon Raman is a true professional, in every sense of the word; he has done an exemplary job in this performance, presenting a strong man, not afraid to speak his truth.  Brandon Raman knows where he comes from…and where he is going.

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It’s Magic For You and For Me…@ the Geffen ‘Stayhouse’

On an otherwise seemingly normal Friday night, it was time to attend “The Present,” a one man magic show, written and performed  by master magician/illusionist Helder Guimaraes, and directed by Frank Marshall. However, it was anything but normal circumstances, since all audience members were sheltering in place, comfy at home, presto-change-o  ready for the Zoom show to begin.  In advance of the performance, we each received by mail, a mystery gift box, wrapped securely with wool twine, only to be opened seconds before show’s start. This special delivery package added all the more suspense and intrigue.

     The box, replete with a deck of cards and word puzzle, served as the prelude to an amazing, dazzling show, filled with card tricks and virtual audience interaction galore. Guimaraes’ aura is something of a supernatural, magical, other worldly nature, as he vividly depicts  his relationship with his beloved grandfather, from whom he learned the craft of magic. He wowed the audience, as I could see people on each zoom checkerboard square, anticipating his next draw, (and their own), with bated breath and wide eyed wonder.  An interesting plus of watching on zoom is the ability to see main performer and audience reaction simultaneously.  As wonder and uncertainty is upon each day lately, magic and uncanny feats bring a sense of comfort and nostalgia.  The show allows us a time of playing with a full deck, lining our cards in order, shuffling and cutting, regaining some sense of control.  Guimaraes presents not only a flair with numbers and letters, but also a theatrical, chronological story of his childhood into adulthood, allowing the audience to enter another dimension and escape current reality, albeit for a brief ninety minutes.  His innate skills and impeccable instruction on the how-to’s of card tricks reveals his mastery of mind reading and irony, as I continually found a lucky four of diamonds showing up in each of my dealt hands; with a surprise symbolic gift related to my designated chosen number, in a small black envelope, at show’s end. Guimaraes is both enlightening and empowering in his display of wizardry. Why not treat yourself to an evening of escape, with card tricks a plenty and surprises in store!

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Just Be You. Live Your Truth…in “Tales of Modern Motherhood: Part 2 Gender and Identity. This Sh*t Just Trans…formed.” @ The Whitefire

Pam Levin is refreshingly honest in her new one woman show,:“Tales of Modern Motherhood: Part 2 Gender and Identity This sht just trans…formed,” recently premiering at the Whitefire Theatre. Written, directed, and starring in this show, Levin proves herself a triple threat, a dynamo force to be reckoned with. She takes on the very sensitive, once taboo theme of sexual identity, in particular, relating to her youngest daughter, who identifies as a he/him. So many memoirs and solo shows have been written, centering in courage and pride, and this one is a definite standout. Levin portrays her daughter Darby, wearing a badge of courage, her heart on her sleeve, as it were, lucky to have the most supportive, loving, understanding parents, even in the midst of a ‘new normal.’ In more than one vignette, Levin reveals the proud moments of embrace between herself, the forever loyal mom, and her daughter, craving parental love. She shares heartfelt true stories, mixed with comedic banter, sure to capture each audience member’s heart and empathy. This is yet another wonderful performance by the uber talented Levin, who had a most successful run of her first one woman show, “Tales of Modern Motherhood – This Sht Got Real” with sold out audiences on both coasts. Her latest show reveals her unbreakable bond with both of her daughters, as she discovers they have more in common, than one would ever imagine, all in the name of motherly love. Being true to oneself, or in Shakespeare’s words, “to thine own self be true,” was far and above the most powerful, compelling message of the evening’s performance. Having watched the performance on a livestream made it all the more intimate, almost like a one on one monologue/conversation between viewer and actor. Herman Hesse often wrote about the divergence between men and women, and how often men have innate feminine characteristics, and vice versa. Even in today’s world, with transgender culture much less taboo, with the explosion of popular shows, such as Transparent, we still are in constant conflict and discussion over the question of “are women really women?; are men really men? Or are we all just human beings conflicted within our own bodies. Levin tackles this very delicate question from a very personal place, her own family, her own daughter, her own tears and fears of the years ahead, in the most honest, beautiful yet theatrical way, mixing ‘mama drama’ with just the right dash of comedic levity. The creativity and courage of this amazing performance is a huge start to coming to terms with sexual identity; fears all in the past, the chance to state, “I am who I am,” loud and proud. Your Truth…in “Tales of Modern Motherhood

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