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
(323)463-7378
http://www.doubleplay.brownpapertickets.comm

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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
http://www.odysseytheatre.com
Instagram : @odysseytheatre

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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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