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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With Dignity and Justice for All… in “Human Interest Story”

As you  enter the theatre, you see an image of Lester Holt on a television screen, with an inside look at California’s homeless situatio, rising every day.  He meets with Mayor Garcetti, and states that 47% of Americans are living in their cars or on the street, with the number forever growing.  They want to be seen, heard, understood, each with his/her own personal story; some drug addicts, some mentally ill, but mostly down on their luck and hungry for conversation, not just food.  How truly relevant is “Human Interest Story,” written by Stephen Sachs, at the Fountain Theatre, which relays a most timely, topical narrative of what occurs when a devoted journalist, Andy Kramer (Rob Nagle), on the brink of losing his job at the City Chronicle, finds himself ‘too inside the story to be completely objective.”  Andy credibly explains his predicament: “they want to toss me out like garbage. Every newsroom in this nation of greed is worse than Gordon Gecko.”  Then, a lightbulb goes off and he fabricates a bombshell of a story about a homeless individual, whose plight and distraught has brought her to commit suicide publicly on the 4th of July.  He insists no other paper could run the story he has in mind, on the current homeless crisis. Enters the scene, a walking miracle, Betty Frazier/Jane Doe (Tanya Alexander), with a glowing aura about her, despite the thundering outside, at her park habitat.  Perhaps the clouds have a silver lining, as she offers to be the real life persona of Jane Doe, whom Andy has written will end her misery  on July 4th. She brings the human component into homelessness, with a beautiful, powerful, poetic monologue: “I am not a nobody. I come to speak my truth.  I come from the edge of the world,no control over storms and rain, or the sick, suffering, and dying amongst me. I’m the human face of this struggle, a heroic Trojan horse from within the fortress.”  She promises to be the ghost writer for Andy’s story . Such  is the premise of this theatrical docu-drama, where artistic productions  sometimes are equally dark to our current reality.  The audience, through the reporter’s dedicatio, comes to realize that home is a person, not just a place.  Jane Doe, with her new image and  identity, quickly takes the world by storm, with guest appearances on talk shows fro Good Morning St. Louis, and the like. She becomes a role model for the disenfranchised and displaced, a spokeswoman for social injustice and oppression of modern day.  She empowers all walks of life, and brings nobility in compassion, grace in forgiveness  through the media.  These days, when so many are ordered to shelter at home, this play’s message takes on even deeper meaning to the tragic reality of homelessness and the precarious situation of displacement with no solid roots.  The dialogue, by the brilliant playwright Sachs,  contains gems of language, such as “you see me through white tinted glasses. Please give a voice to the voiceless.” Their very different worlds collide with a common agenda for the greater good. 

“Human Interest Story” gives a picture of a stark reality, not only in Los Angeles, but worldwide.  It is  a story, not only of everyday heroes, such as devoted  journalists, telling real news, but also a story of women’s rights, homelessness, social injustice, and racism.  Frazier (Alexander) proudly asserts, “I’m not invisible, and this is your chance fo let the world know my story.”  As with any compelling drama, there is always the threatening antagonist, ready and eager to foil the plot. In this case, it’s newspaper magnate Harold Cain (James Harper), who entices Jane Doe/Betty Frazier with a cozy home in a luxurious hotel, stating “you take care of the boss; the boss takes care of you, and gives you a place to call home.”  She quickly learns the lesson that there is no such thing as a free ride. The empowering bittersweet message of this show is that we cannot edit yesterday’s papers, but we can rewrite our lives and our history, going forward.  One could call this show a morality play of sorts, a modern day Pygmalion.  But this is many a Jane Doe’s story, and Tanya Alexander is vibrant in her delivery.  She gives a voice, loud and clear, to the voiceless and marginalized.  Andy, as the dedicated reporter admits his job is sometimes “messy, contrary to his comfort zone, yet news, in the form of this human interest story, is the only useful tool in the control of our humanity,” ultimately our utmost priority.

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“Revenge Song,” Rollicking Fun @ the Geffen

Praised as the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” of the new millennium, “Revenge Song, A Vampire Cowboys Creation” graces the stage at Geffen Playhouse.  A blend of pop opera, pop art, and pop culture, the show was a perfect Valentine’s Day treat, taking the audience to 17th century Paris France.  Margaret Odette is magnificent as Julie d’Aubigny, widely known as La Maupin.  So little is known of her life and story, as a young girl who dressed in male clothing early on, and trained alongside boys in academics and fencing. Los Angeles theatre audiences now have the privilege to learn about the existence of the life of this extraordinary young woman, daughter of Gaston (Noshir Dalal); once the mistress of Louis de Lorraine-Guise (Tom Myers); had an affair with a young woman (Amy Kim Waschke); and later dueled with French nobleman Comte d’Albert (Eugene Young). Each story, each relationship filled with adventure, filled with love, quote apropos for the love in the air that is February.  One memorable line of dialogue was “love’s a drug that takes your heart.”  We all long for love but sometimes seek revenge if love is lost, hence the show’s title, “Revenge Song.”  Every element of this performance, from special effects, colorful scenic and lighting design (Nick Francone) to period costumes (Jessica Shay) to puppet design (David Valentine) to music and sound (Shane Rettig) to choreography ( Stacy Dawson Stearns) set the tone and aura of the time. The show was 90 minutes of pure escapism to the nth degree .  Definitely a mix of Rocky Horror meets Dangerous Liaisons, or aristocracy meets Xena the Warrior comic character, replete with swordplay, karate moves, and emo/goth, sure to please a wide palate of tastes.   One line Julie whimsically sings, “I know I’m different when I just want a kiss out of curiosity, I don’t want to be lonely.  My heart is yours. You’re all I desire.” How this sentiment resonated throughout the theatre. When Julie(Odette) was arranged to be married, Comte d’Albert (Eugene Young) broke out into a beat box/ hip hop piece on romance, “Roses are red; can you give me an opportunity to know you better?” This number was a memorable standout of the show, a boy meets girl via arranged marriage, with  rap songs similar to tunes in Hamilton.  Written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Robert Ross Parker, “Revenge Song” makes the case for a spectacular production filled with a mix of French minstrel and 1600’s comedy/slapstick, wacky hi-jinks, juxtaposed with romantic lingo to the tune and spirit of mon Cheri amor, time traveling to modern day shopping malls, singing “I Think We’re Alone Now.”  The production is genius in combining past, present and future.  Be sure to get thee to the Geffen in time for “Revenge Song, A Vampire Cowboys Creation.”

Through March 8th

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A New Day, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” @ Nate Holden Performing Arts Center

With a “new day” upon us, for women making history, the Ebony Repertory Theatre’s presentation of “Lady Day at the Emerson , Karole Foreman as Billie Holiday, is heartwarming, nostalgic, empowering, and bittersweet in one. Foreman’s portrayal of Holiday is a definite showstopper, accompanied by her highly gifted jazz pianist extraordinaire, Stephan Terry.  When entering the theatre space, I felt as if I were actually in an intimate cabaret space in New Orleans’ Preservation Hall, jazz headquarters of the world.  The set is unique in that there are tables set up right on stage for audience members to interact fully with the performer, adding a realistic point of view.  There is absolutely no better way to celebrate the extraordinary talent of this legendary vocalist than by seeing this show, reliving her life, and learning the highs (literally) and lows (downfalls) of her life, both personally and professionally.  Ebony Repertory Theatre lives up to its stellar reputation by presenting this phenomenon of a musical tribute, revealing an undeniably gritty chronicle of the blues singer’s rise and fall, brilliantly directed by Wren T. Brown. The show features exquisite musical numbers, such as “I Wonder Where Our Love  Has Gone”; “God Bless The Child”; “Foolin’ Myself,” and “Don’t Explain,” all revealing her success as a cabaret lounge performer, her tumultuous personal life and her ultimate demise into heroin addiction.

Each song is a unique life story in and of itself, particularly with the hauntingly beautiful “Strange Fruit,” with lyrics inspired by poet Lewis Allen’s words about the lynching of Negroes that the world just couldn’t ignore.  Lady Day (Foreman ) offers her own raspy signature spiritual rendition, leaving the audience mesmerized.  “Southern trees bear strange fruit…blood on the leaves, blood on the root.”  In the annals of phenomenal Black women who never gave up on their dream, i.e. Maya Angelou; Ella Fitzgerald; Shirley Chisholm; and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few, Billie Holiday was a forerunner and role model, paving the way for musical entertainers today.  Her fait accompli, as depicted in this show, was performing to a sold out crowd (three times) at Carnegie Hall.  Foreman  emotes a sparkling, yet demure stage presence, commanding the audience, with her realistic portrayal of both Billie Holiday’s glamorous aura, a mere facade of a tortured soul.  Musical director  (Stephan Terry)’s accompaniment was the proverbial cherry on the cake, eliciting the mood of the day with vibrancy and sizzle.

 At a talk back following the show, director Wren T. Brown addressed the audience, alongside Foreman and Terry.  The show replicated midnight vaudevilles where performers would sing the blues, with heart and soul in the style of Billie Holiday. The show was built around many elements of her real life, her last show being in 1959, with no impersonation but rather a portrayal of an actress/vocalist with an extraordinary sense of vulnerability, her raw emotions palpable on stage. The director added, “What better venue  for this story based on true events, than here at this space, which was once the jazz heart of Los Angeles, theatrical terra-firma, such as the Hillcrest Club for blues and jazz, and Jazz at the Metro.  What a joy to have her life depicted here.”  Now, Los Angeles audiences get the privilege to witness Foreman’s impeccable, dazzling performance, and a voice like velvet, in celebration and tribute to Billie Holiday’s tragic life story.  Foreman stated, “I grew up listening to the greats, like Nina Simone, with lyrics, song, music, and popular culture always around me.” In describing Holiday’s character, Brown stated, “Billie Holiday was funny, strong, a fighter, and always saw the good in people despite the abuse and addiction she endured. She was multi-layered, more to her beneath the surface.” Foreman and Terry were able to soak up the material of the iconic legend, like a sponge.  “There’s nothing like actors who prepare a joyful collaboration.” Terry added, “there is a structure to my piano playing, which brings the lyrics and music aglow and keeping her story very much alive.”

Through March 1, Nate Holden Performing Arts Center 4718 W. Washington Blvd. Mid city Los Angeles

For info:

info: (323)964-9768

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