“Oppenheimer” Is Rogue Machine Solid

Review by Peter Foldy

OPPENHEIMER by Tom Morton-Smith is a sweeping and complex play that examines the moral issues and personalities surrounding the invention of the nuclear weapon that was used to devastate Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII.

Boasting a cast of 24, the production stars James Liebman as the multi-faceted J. Robert Oppenheimer, a man who is best remembered as the father of the atomic bomb.

When we first meet him, Oppenheimer and his youthful cohorts share a common hatred for fascism and lean toward communism as an acceptable political stance.

With the war raging and the German’s making strides in developing a powerful bomb, Oppenheimer is recruited by the military to lead the work on the Manhattan Project. Before long he distances himself from his communist past and dives into the task at hand. He struggles with the rigors of army life, is challanged by an alcoholic wife and tries to be supportive to his mentally unstable mistress. Causing further problems are Oppenheimer’s brother and sister-in-law who refuse to step back from their communist leanings.

Michael Redfield, Dan Via, Rachel Avery, James Liebman, Jennifer Pollono, and Mark Jacobson

The competative political climate at Los Alamos ultimately finds Oppenheimer under the U.S. Army’s, and perhaps the FBI’s, microscope–but the military need him as much as they are confounded by him. Oppenheimer and his young scientists, who come to be known as “Oppie’s boys” eventually manage to split the atom. They send the bombs, “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” to be dropped on Japan, and while they win the war for America, Oppenheimer and his team change the dynamics for the survival of mankind.

Realizing the full impact of his accomplishments, Oppenheimer feels like “he has dropped a loaded gun in a playground.” He understands that the bomb he has created could wipe humanity off the face of the earth.

Its a heavy burden to carry.

Mark Jacobson, Kenney Selvey, James Liebman, Brewster Parsons, and Zachary Grant

Liebman cleverly balances Oppenheimer’s social unease, his brilliant mind and his sexual appetite. He is supported by a talented, hard-working cast who all deliver impressive performances. There are no slouches on stage. Every actor has a moment to shine. Particularly impressive are Zachary Grant as Robert Wilson, Ron Bottitta as General Grove, Ryan Brophy as Oppenheimer’s brother, Frank, Miranda Wynne as Jackie Oppenheimer, Landon Tavernier as Peer de Silva and Kenney Selvey as Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz.

Special mention also needs to go to 14 year old Sophie Pollono, who in a brief but memorable turn delivers some powerful dialogue with the ease of a seasoned professional.

Ron Bottitta, Landon Tavernier, Brendan Farrell

John Perrin Flynn’s fluid direction keeps the lengthy piece moving at a good clip. I especially welcomed the staging of a wild, ritualistic dance number in the second act, based on the Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman’s bongo playing. It’s a climactic, tension busting moment that celebrates the success of the Manhattan Project, allowing the cast to cut loose while also giving the audience a moment of much needed levity.

Other cast members include Jason Chiumento, Mark Jacobson, Kirsten Kollander, Brewster Parsons, Scott Victor Nelson, Jen Pollono, Rachel Avery, Michael Redfield, Dan Via, Brendon Farrel, Brady Richards, Daniel Shawn Miller, Rick Garrison and Marwa Bernstein.

Scenic design by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, sound by Christopher Moscatiello and lighting design by Matt Richter and Tom Brown are all solid, as are the 1940s costumes by Dianne K. Graebner. It’s clear that a lot of thought and hard work went into making Rogue Machine’s first production in their new space at the Electric Lodge in Venice a memorable one.

Oppenheimer is absorbing and powerful. It should not be misssed.

Oppenheimer runs at 8pm on Saturdays and Mondays, 3pm Sundays through December 30, 2018 (no performances on 11/12, 11/17, 11/26, 12/1, 12/2, 12/8, 12/9, 12/10, 12/24).

It runs in rep with Finks by Joe Gilford, son of parents who were blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Both plays look at America in the 30s, 40s and 50s. The characters are dreamers who became activists. These plays are not about politics but about the universal ideal that we could be better than we are.

Rogue Machine is located in the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Avenue in Venice, CA 90291.

Tickets are $40.

Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com

 

Antaeus’ “Little Foxes” Are Irresistibly Cunning

Review by Lucy Houlihan

The Little Foxes at Antaeus Theatre is stunning in both its appearance and its execution, and powerfully kicks off the Glendale Theatre’s new season. From the set, to the acting, to the costumes, this production gives an updated and captivating take on Lillian Hellman’s Post-reconstructionist Southern drama.

Rob Nagle, Deborah Puette, Timothy Adam Venable, Mike McShane, Calvin Picou, Jocelyn Towne

The extraordinary set (designed by John Iacovelli) is covered in perfectly ostentatious details: from sculptures of lounging women to black marble columns. However, the thing that draws the eye most intensely is the bright blue, velvet cameo back sofa. It is this extravagance, this garishness that drives the story of the Hubbards in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes.

The sofa acts as a center for the action and the emotion of the room, Cameron Watson’s direction ensures the characters circle the grandiosity while scheming with and against each other. While the Hubbard siblings each grasp for the wealth they believe they deserve, they use the sofa to stoke their fires, a gorgeous reminder of a “by-any-means-necessary” itinerary.

Jocelyn Towne and Deborah Puette

Deborah Puette plays the brilliant and severe Regina Hubbard Giddens, who uses the sofa to trap her family where she wants them, a spider in a web full of seats. Her husband (John DeMita) and her brothers (Mike McShane and Rob Nagle) are at her whims, try as they might to stay ahead.

Jocelyn Towne’s remarkable performance as Regina’s sister-in-law and foil, Birdie,  is honest and captivating in its frenzied victimhood. Judy Louise Johnson shines in her kindness and poise as Regina’s black maid, whose presence in the script both solidifies the play in its 1900s setting and draws attention to the racial issues still present in America today. Kristin Couture is powerful as the the young daughter, who holds onto the hope of escaping and standing up to the locusts “who eat the earth and eat all the people on it.”

John DeMita and Judy Louise Johnson

The Little Foxes is written with the women at the forefront, and Puette, Towne, Louise Johnson, and Couture certainly stand their ground and provide a compelling, poignant view of feminism both then and now. The acting on all sides is superb, and Watson’s direction shows deep knowledge and reverence to Hellman’s characters and her story.

Anteaeus Theatre’s production is designed and performed to perfection, an enchanting two-and-a-half hours that should not be missed.

Where: Antaeus Theatre Company

Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center

110 E. Broadway

Glendale, CA 91205

When: opens Oct. 25 and runs through Dec. 10.

How much: $35

Photos by: Geoffrey Wade Photography

antaeus.org

A Poignant “Mexican Day” at the Rogue Machine

Review by: Peter Foldy

From 1902 to 1951, Bimini Baths was the premiere hot springs resort in Los Angeles. It served everyone from movie stars to maids. Admission was just 25 cents, but only if you were white. At the end of each month, before the filthy water was about to be drained,  the Bimini allowed people of color to use the facilities. They called it Mexican Day.

Playwright, Tom Jacobson has created a trilogy, (Plunge, Tar, and Mexican Day) based on true events.  Although some elements are fictionalized, three of the characters in the trilogy are real people strongly represented in the historical record. Jacobson used the actual writing of Hisaye Yamamoto, Bayard Rustin and Everett Maxell as inspiration for those characters, some of whom appear in more than just one production of  his trilogy.

Jully Lee and Donathan Walters in “Mexican Day”

Mexican Day takes place in 1948.  Civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin (Donathan Walters) has come to Los Angeles from New York to de-segregate the Bimini Baths. An openly gay man at a time when it was dangerous to be open about one’s sexuality, Rustin approaches a Japanese American newspaper reporter, Hisaye Yamamoto (Jully Lee) to help his cause. Yamamoto knows all about segregation, having spent part of World War II in an internment camp.

Zenobio (Jonathan Medina), the polite but hard-nosed Mexican gatekeeper at the Bimini, has little choice but to enforce the racist policies established by his employers. Despite their best efforts, Rustin and Yamamoto are repeatedly refused admission. They stage several sit-in protests, but the Zenobio can’t or won’t budge.

Jully Lee and Jonathan Medina

The pair soon recruit an art historian turned screenwriter, Everett Maxwell (Darrell Larson) to help them defy the ban. They don’t at first realize that Maxwell may not have been the most appropriate choice for this mission. He has been denied entry to the baths for decades due to his past misdeads which saw him spend time in prison. Both he and his soon to be revealed victim have left both men scarred for life.

At times the narrative drifts off course, especially when all four actors reappear in  other, less significant roles, the through-story of Mexican Day ultimately locks on to it’s intended message and brings us to a powerful and moving conclusion.

Donathan Walters and Darrell Larson

The actors here are all supurb. Donathan Walters leads the charge with his unstopable energy, driving the narrative. Jonathan Medina allows us to feel Zenobio’s conflict without over playing the character’s pain. Jully Lee is fresh and lively as Yamamoto, while Darrell Larson convincingly portrays a damaged soul with little hope of redemption.

Great performances, strong direction by Jeff Liu and an impressive set design by John Iacovelli make Mexican Day a play to see. It is not only poignant but also relevant to our current political and racial climate.

Where:
ROGUE MACHINE (in The Met Theatre)
1089 N Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029
(Street parking or lot at Medical Center east of the freeway, at 5300 Santa Monica Blvd. $6)

When:
Schedule: 8pm on Fridays and Sundays, 4pm on Saturdays
(no performance on Saturday, July 14th).

Extended through: July 22, 2018

How Much: $40

For reservations call 855-585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com

Closing: July 15, 2018

Bad Jews: The Battle for the Chai

Play Review by: Peter Foldy

Three young cousins and a significant other spend the night together in a small apartment after the funeral of their beloved grandfather, a holocaust survivor they all call “Poppy” in Joshua Harmon’s BAD JEWS, currently playing at the Oddysey Theatre in West L.A.

Daphna (Jeanette Deutsch), is an observant “good Jew” who cannot wait to marry her Israeli boyfriend and move to Israel to further her Jewish education. Her cousin, Liam, (Noah James) an avowed secularist and a self-described “Bad Jew” is a graduate student who studies Japanese culture. Liam loaths Daphna. Finds her tedious, arrogant and toxic. He doesn’t buy into her rabbinical posturing and pious grandiosity. Daphna is jealous of Liam’s family money. She judges him to be a self-loathing Jew who is willing to give equal creadance to every culture, every race and religion, except his own.

Noah James, Lila Hood and Jeanette Deutsch in “Bad Jews”

Adding fuel to the volatile mashup is the fact that Liam has just returned after a ski trip with his blond, non Jewish girlfriend, the sweet but ditzy Melody (Lila Hood). Liam had dropped his phone from a chairlift, missing Poppy’s funeral, barely making it back for the Shiva, a traditional gathering of family and friends.

Before long the evening implodes into a free for all. Everyone fights like savages. Liam’s mild mannered brother, Jonah (Austin Rogers) tries to keep the peace but the insults soon escalate to physical violence.

Lila Hood, Jeanette Deutsch in “Bad Jews”

The prize they are fighting for is a Chai, a necklace that Poppy had hidden under his tongue during the Holocaust and later used as a ring of sorts to propose to his wife. Now that he is gone, both Liam and Daphna feel they deserve the heirloom. Liam wants to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and use it to propose to Melody, a woman he says he truly loves.

Daphna is of course mortified. The Chai is a beloved and valued symbol of Judaism, not to mention a cherished memory of their late grandfather. The fact that a Shiksa should wear it around her neck almost makes her physically ill.

The writing in “Bad Jews” is brilliant. It’s as poignant as it is hillarious. It’s clear to see why this play has been performed all over the world since it’s New York premier in 2012. The story works on many levels. On the one hand it’s an examination of family that resonates, regardless of your beliefs or your religion. On the other it’s a timely examination of modern Jewish beliefs and attitudes; of what it means to be a Jew in an age where young people are far more open and accepting of other cultures than in years gone by.

Lila Hood, Austin Rogers, Jeanette Deutsch and Noah James fight it out in “Bad Jews”

Performances here are exceptional. Noah James hits a slam dunk as Liam. His character is filled with rage while overflowing with love. It’s a moving moment when he states that his girlfriend, Melody, is a song. Those simple words, delivered from the heart, validates Liam’s point of view and wins us over.

Jeanette Deutsch is force to be reckoned with. She plays Daphna’s strenghts and weaknesses even-handedly, and by the show’s conclusion you feel sympathy for this strong willed young woman who is also just following her heart. Deutsch gives a memorable performance.

Lila Hood is a perfect Melody. She is the peacekeeper here, trying to stop tempers from coming to a boil. Hood makes us accept Melody’s shortcomings in the intelectual department and brings a certain kindness as well as a and a much needed balance to this explosive storyline.

Austin Rogers is the quiet one as Liam’s brother, Jonah. While he doesn’t have a lot to do, his final reveal is touching and unexpected.

Director, Dana Resnick keeps the dialogue-heavy piece moving at a clip. The play runs 95 minutes but flies by, while never losing your interest. With such a short running time I was stunned to hear so many cell phones ringing during the performance, despite the pre-show announcement asking people to silence their devices. The annoyance even managed to stop the show for a moment till the offending phone was shut off. If that’s not enough, there was also a whispered conversation going on behind me that drove me crazy.

Despite some bad audience members, “Bad Jews” is a powerful, impressive play that will stay with you long after the curtain comes down. I’m already looking forward to revisiting it again before it closes in June.

When: Performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from through June 17.

On Sunday, April 22 only, the performance will be at 5 p.m. with no 2 p.m. matinee.

Additional weeknight performances are scheduled on Wednesday, May 9; Thursday, May 17; Wednesday, May 30; and Thursday, June 14, all at 8 p.m.

Talkbacks with the cast follow the performances on Wednesday, May 9; Friday, May 18; and Sunday, May 27.

Tickets: From $30 to $35;

There are three “Tix for $10” performances on Friday, April 27; Wednesday, May 30; and Thursday, June 14.

The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.

The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to www.OdysseyTheatre.com

Photos by: Enci Box

 

 

 

A Warm and Fuzzy El Nino

Review by: Peter Foldy

Sharp writing from Justin Tanner and spot on performances from a talented cast make Rogue Machine’s new season premiere, El Niño, a must see theatrical event.

The first thing you notice as you wait for the play to begin is the incredibly detailed set from scenic designer, John Iacovelli.  Everything feels real on stage, right down to the rain that will eventually fall outside the windows.

Nick Ullett and Maile Flanagan

But what really grabs you as El Niño begins is the edgy, no holds barred dialogue from the loveably pathethic, yet sharply drawn characters who could comfortably meld into an episode of an old Rosanne Barr TV comedy.

Colleen, (Maile Flanagan) a rolly polly woman with an early Beatle haircut, has been kicked out of her home by an abusive boyfriend. We find her sleeping on her parent’s couch. Mother, June (Danielle Kennedy) and father, Harvey (Nick Ullett) clearly don’t want her around. Collen, in their eyes, is a slacker who is soon asked to pack her bags and find somewhere else to waste away. June and Harvey want their space back. Want their privacy. Colleen’s various ailments, however, don’t provide this lady with too many living choices and she convinces them to let her stay until she heals.

Enter, Colleen’s high strung sister, Andrea (Melissa Denton) and her recently acquired boyfriend, Todd (Jonathan Palmer), a veterinarian and a push over who puts up with

The cast of El Niño

more crap from Andrea then most would ever tolerate. Lonely next door neigbor, Kevin (Joe Keyes) also arrives on the scene and when  he discovers that Colleen is the author of a series of science fiction books that he is a fan of, Kevin begins hitting on her.

Collen gradually lets her guard down and the pair are soon making out on the sofa. The messed up family dynamic, however, give Colleen and Kevin a low chance of finding love–but it is mean sprited big sis, Andrea’s hard-hitting revelations that puts the final nails in the coffin. At least that’s what Mr. Tanner wants you to think.

El Niño gradually tugs away at your heartstrings as these hyper-real characters discover their compassion and their humanity. Outside the rain may fall but all ends well in El Niño, not just for our loveable screw-ups but also for the audience who are rewarded with almost none stop laughter.

Melissa Denton, Danielle Kennedy, Jonathan Palmer in El Niño

Maile Flanagan hits every note as the charismatic Colleen. She is a comedy prodigy who should have her own TV series. Danielle Kennedy reveals a powerful matriach, dishing out insult and guarded affection even handedly. Nick Ullett, Joe Keyes, Jonathan Palmer and Melissa Denton also give it their all. This is a connected cast who bounce of each other’s energy. They are a joy to watch. Kudos also go out to director, Lisa James who keeps the show fluid and energized.

El Niño is one of the early hits of 2018. Put on your raincoats and go see it. You’ll thank me later.

When: EL NIÑO runs Saturdays and Mondays at 8:30pm, Sundays at 3:00pm through April 2, 2018 (no performances on March 19th).

Where: Rogue Machine is located in The Met, 1089 N Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029.

Tickets: $40.

Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com 

Social Media Identifiers: #ElNinoPlay Twitter: @RogueMachineLA, Instagram: @RogueMachineTheatre; FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/RogueMachineTheatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

4Play Breaks Down Walls and Bounderies

Review by: Peter Foldy

4PLAY by Graham Brown examines the personal entanglements of three couples – one heterosexual, one gay and one lesbian. Told in something of a sitcom style, the show takes place among the audience who upon entering the venue find themselves in a nightclub setting with cocktail tables and a fully stocked bar.

Graham Brown and Dustyn Gulledge

Though the show opens with a jazzy piano rendition of Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things,” (well sung by Marian Frizelle), 4Play is anything but. It’s a meta-theatrical experience, a play within a play, and the actors let you know  immediately that they are breaking down the fourth wall.

4Play mixes life with art and throws in science and sports – not to mention infatuation and seduction in the process.

Graham Brown (“the director”) is getting over a breakup and figure this could be the right time to explore his bisexual side. He meets and hooks up with

Zoë Simpson Dean, Ariana Anderson and Dustyn Gulledge

Cameron J Oro, someone he doesn’t realize is in fact his best friend’s boyfriend. After a clumsy and disappointing encounter, the director decides that he may be straight after all.

Meanwhile Ariana Anderson (“the lesbian”) rents a room to Zoë Dean Simpson (“the roommate”) and the women are soon involved in a steamy tryst. Eve Danzeisen is their 3rd roommate and she, it turns out, is the director’s love interest.

The aforementioned boyfriend, (Cameron J Oro), and the director’s best friend, Dustyn Gulledge, have their own trials and tribulations. Throw in a fesity relative and a stage manager and what you get is an intimate, funny performance, with conversations that at times feel like that heart to heart, revealing chat you might have with your best friend at 4am.

Sound confusing? It’s really not. 4Play has a compelling story line and likeable characters who have both humor and depth. Mr. Brown’s dialogue flows as smoothly as a bottle of Dom Perignon and the fine cast have a chemistry that feels, spontaneous and authentic. By the time the pieces of the puzzle are put together and the conflicts come to a head at an awkward, ill fated dinner party, you almost want to swap phone numbers with these people so you can catch up in a few weeks to make sure that things have worked out for them. 4Play feels that involving. Don’t miss it!

Cameron J. Oro and Kaitlin Large

4Play was written by Graham Brown with Nathan Faudree and Lisa Roth, Directed by Graham Brown and featuring Ariana Anderson, Graham Brown, Bevin Bru, Eve Danzeisen, Zoë Simpson Dean, Marian Frizelle, Dustyn Gulledge, Lara Helena, Kaitlin Large, Zoquera Milburn, Cameron J. Oro, Christi Pedigo, Kirstin Racicot, Kelsey Risher, Robert Walters, Dan Wilson. Presented by trip.

 

 

 

 

WHEN:
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 22, March 1, March 8, March 15
Fridays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 23, March 2, March 9, March 16
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 24, March 3, March 10, March 17

WHERE:
trip. @ The Actors Company
916 A North Formosa Ave
Los Angeles CA 90046

HOW:
(800) 838-3006 or www.tripnyc.org

TICKET PRICES:
• General Admission: $25

Photos by: Kelsey Risher

 

 

Road Rage Destroys a Family in “Redline”

Review by: Peter Foldy

Can a son forgive a father who has altered the lives of his entire family after brief meltdown? That is the question being asked in REDLINE, the new play by Christian Durso currently playing along side Sinner’s Laundry at the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood.

Raymond, (James Eckhouse) is pretty much your every man. He loves rock and roll and muscle cars. He’s crazy about his kids, especially his teenage son. Though his wife frequently nags and humiliates him in front of his children, Raymond puts up with her–until one day he can’t.

On a road trip with his family along a frigid eastern Sierra highway, Raymond snaps, losing all self control. It only takes five quick seconds, but it’s enough to cause a major and potentially deadly traffic accident. By some miracle Raymond and his family are spared, but the relationship with his wife and kids suffers irreversible damage.

When we meet him some 20 years later and it is obvious that Raymond is haunted and broken by those event from long ago. He has left the city and lives alone in a isolated cabin overlooking the very highway where the accident took place. He regrets his his road rage, and there is little joy in his life–but on this night there may be hope. Raymond finds a message on his answering machine from his son. Jamie, (Graham Sibley) says he is coming to see him, and Raymond feels he will finally get a chance to make amends. Patch things up with his boy who is now in his early 30s and on probation after a stint in jail. What Raymond doesn’t know is that Jamie is contemplating revenge–and  may even have murder on his mind.

The unsettling story initially unfolds as two separate monologues. First Raymond’s and then Jamie’s. Both actors break the fourth wall as they share their points of view. One might think that a plot conveyed in this manner could grow tedious, but in Redline it is anything but.

Mr. Durso’s writing is spot on and with smart direction from Eli Gonda and deeply committed, passionate performances from James Eckhouse and Graham Sibley, Redline evolves into a compelling, edge of your seat thriller. This is a taunt, visceral theatrical experience and by the time father and son reunite for the final showdown, you can cut the tension on stage with a knife.

Kudos to Rachel Myers for her set design, Josh Epstein for his creative lighting and Peter Bayne for original music and sound. They help make Redline a winner.

Where: Lounge Theatre
6201 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90038
(just east of Vine)

When: Saturdays and Sundays through November 19.

Tickets: $30

Go to www.IamaTheatre.com to find the repertory schedule.

 

 

 

 

Erotic and Visual, “Freddy” Examines the Life of an Avant-Garde Renaissance Man

Review by: Peter Foldy

A brilliant and charismatic dancer, Fred Herko was a central figure in New York’s downtown avant-garde in the early 1960s. He was a member of Andy Warhol’s eclectic group of creatives who hung out at Warhol’s studio, known as the Factory. He went on to star in seven of Warhol’s earliest cinematic experiments in 1963, including Jill and Freddy Dancing, Rollerskate/Dance Movie and Salome and Delilah.

A musical prodigy, Freddy studied piano at the Julliard School of Music before switching to ballet at the age of twenty. In 1956 he won a scholarship to study at American Ballet Theatre School and within a few years he was dancing with New York’s most prestigious and established choreographers. He was a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, presenting six of his own works in the group’s concerts between 1962 and 1964. He was also a co-founder of the New York Poets Theatre, which staged one-act plays by poets and provided a podium for dancers, musicians and filmmakers such as Brian De Palma and Andy Warhol.

As his career and reputation flourished, his personal life was falling apart. Freddy started using drugs, speed in particular, to fuel his creativity.

By 1964 he was strung out and homeless. On October 27th he went to an ex boyfriend’s apartment and proceeded to take a bath. Some accounts say he invited a group of people to watch a performance. According to those who were there, Mozart’s Coronation Mass was playing as Freddy emerged from the bathroom stark naked and began dancing around the loft. As the music climaxed, Freddy leapt through an open window, falling five flights to the street below. His untimely death at the age of 28 robbed New York’s underground scene of one of its most exuberant, colorful and versatile performers and rising stars.

The play, FREDDY, presented by the Fountain Theatre and the Los Angeles City College, was written by Deborah Lawlor, based on her true story as a confidant and one time lover of the volatile dancer. In the play, Ms. Lawlor, here called “Shelley,” and portrayed by two actresses, Kate McConaughy as the “Past Shelley” and Susan Wilder as the present day version, recollects how back in the 60s, she was  a naïve young woman who, like many others, fell under Freddy’s spell.

Freddy grabs you with a burst of energy and color that is reminiscent of the rock musical, “Hair.” Beautiful young dancers fill the stage, recreating the sensual, drug-fueled energy of Andy Warhol’s Factory. We soon meet Freddy (Marty Dew) and he is instantly the center of attention. Everybody wants to know him. Everybody wants to sleep with him.

Directed by Frances Loy, with movement/dance direction by Cate Caplin, the play moves through the various chapters of Freddy’s life, cleverly blending theater, dance, music and multimedia to tell this story. We follow Freddy through his triumphs, his personal failures, and finally his sad demise.

Marty Dew’s “Freddy” evokes charm and sympathy as he gives us a glimpse into this iconic character. A strong dancer and a powerful presence on stage, Dew pulls you in and make you care–but it is Susan Wilder as the “Present Day Shelley” who brings the most depth to her role. A seasoned pro, her past dance experience allows her to keep up with a young ensemble.

Katie McConaughy as “Past Shelly,” Mel England as “Jimmy Waring,” Lamont Oakley as “Pete” and Jamal Hopes as “Johnny” are also to be commended. Other cast members; Alexandra Fiallos, Jamal Hopes, Tristen Kim, Jackie Mohr, Connor Clark Pascale, Justice Quinn, Savannah Rutledge, Brianna Saranchock, Trenton Tabak and Jesse Trout are all outstanding and they give it their all.

Scenic Design by Tesshi Nakagawa is effective, as is Derek Jones’ lighting and Jillian Ross’ lighting design. Particularly impressive is a silhouette projection that shows Freddie’s pre-teen years  as he interacts with his controlling parents.

Freddy is a first-rate, joyous celebration of an accomplished, though short-lived life. It’s no accident that on the drive home I found myself singing the Elton John song, “Candle In The Wind,” particularly it’s final line;  “your candle burned out long ago, but your legend never did.”

Something makes me think that Freddy and Elton probably would’ve gotten along.

When: Performances of Freddy take place through Oct. 14.

Where: The Caminito Theatre, located on the campus of Los Angeles City College at 855 N Vermont Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90029. Parking is FREE in Structure 4 on Heliotrope at Monroe (between Santa Monica and Melrose).

For more information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

Photos by: Ed Krieger

Br’er Cotton is a Timely And Moving Production

Review by: Peter Foldy

Written over two years ago, it is uncanny when one of the characters in BR’ER COTTON, the new play making it’s Los Angeles premiere at the Zephyr Theatre in Hollywood, talks about police brutality in Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s as if playwright, Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm and the Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble had a crystal ball and were able to see what was to come. But then Charlottesville is just one of many hot spots where racial tensions come to a boiling point.

Directed by Gregg T. Daniel, Br’er Cotton examines one African American family’s frustration as they try to cope with the rising tide of hatred that has enveloped the country. Set in a run down neighborhood in Lynchburg, Virginia, an area that was once the site of a thriving cotton mill, the story focuses on 14-year-old Ruffrino (Omete Anassi) who lives with his mother and grandfather in an old deteriorated house that seems to be sinking, much like their situation.

Mom, Nadine (Yvonne Huff Lee), cleans houses to support her family, and has done so for most of her life. Her other full time occupation is worrying about her young son. Ruffrino’s granddad, Matthew, (Christopher Carrington), tells the boy that they are a “stay out of it family.” They don’t get involved in conflict. It’s pretty clear that Matthew has given up the fight.

Ruffrino, meanwhile, is well aware of the ever increasing number of police killings of young black men and he is in constant conflict with his mother and grandfather because of their complacency. Though only 14, he views himself as a revolutionary. He incites riots at school and his on-line presence, as part of a violent video game group, brings out the haters who frequently call him the “N” word. It is only another gamer, a young girl who’s handle is Caged_Bird99 (Emmaline Jacott) who supports and encourages him.  Imagining Caged_Bird99 to be African American, Ruffrino is in for a surprise when he discovers her true profile.

His mom, Nadine, also gets a surprise when she discovers that the house she cleans is owned by a white cop. In an unexpected twist, the Officer, (Shawn Law) relates to the hardships Nadine has to endure and she welcomes his concern. Nadine clearly has no other shoulder to lean on.

Br’er Cotton is wrapped in a cloud of tension that never lets up. Mr. Chisholm is an accomplished writer and Omete Anassi, as Ruffrino, manages to infuse the play with a youthful energy that fuels the explosive debates, and the not-so-unexpected conclusion. The rest of the top-notch cast, particularly Yvonne Huff Lee, Christopher Carrington and Shawn Law, all deliver strong and committed performances.

Kudos to Gregg T. Daniel’s fine directing, David Mauer’s superb scenic design, Westley Charles Chew’s lighting, and David B. Marling’s sound design.

Br’er Cotton, at it’s core, is a human story filled with humility and love. It delivers a heart-wrenching, intimate glance into one black family’s struggle to navigate racial tragedy in these troubled times. Don’t miss it!

When: Br’er Cotton runs Saturdays and Mondays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm through October 29, 2017 (no performance on Monday Oct 9th).

Where: Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046.

Tickets: $15 – $45. Reservation and information at www.lower-depth.com/on-stage and 323-960-7787.

Wheelchair access and ample street parking.

Photos: Ed Krieger

 

“Daytona” is a Touching Drama With Heart

Review by Peter Foldy

The devil is in the details of Daytona, a play making its American premiere at the Rogue Machine Theatre in Hollywood. Written by Oliver Cotton, produced by John Perrin Flynn and beautifully directed by Elina de Santos, the story is set in 1986 where we meet a couple of aging holocaust survivors, Elli (Sharron Shayne) and her husband, Joe (George Wyner). Married right after the war and still trying to leave the past behind, Joe and Elli are trying to enjoy their twilight years. Joe is at the tail end of a career as an accountant. Elli loves ballroom dancing, and the two of them are currently excited about a competition the following evening.

When Ellie leaves to visit her sister, Joe is stunned to find a man ringing the doorbell of his Brooklyn apartment. It is his brother, Billy (Richard Fancy), someone Joe hasn’t seen in over thirty years. Billy had disappeared without a word, taking some of Joe’s money with him. It’s an awkward reunion and after the shock wears off, Joe demands answers.

Without giving too much away, we learn that Billy and Joe were in a concentration camp together. Since leaving New York, Billy changed his name, married a Christian woman and has been living an ordinary, unfulfilled life in the mid-west. It is when Joe learns that his brother committed a violent act of revenge in Florida, and is now on the run from the law, that the story really begins to pick up steam.

When Elli returns she is equally shocked to see her missing brother-in-law and soon it becomes clear that there is a complex family drama in play. A twisted dynamic that goes back as far as 1945. As the tension and the urgency amp up we realize that there may be no happy ending here, which is sad as these survivors certainly deserve peace of mind.

Despite some fluctuation with her German accent, Sharron Shayne is powerful as the heart-broken Elli. She wears her pain on her sleeve as she confronts what could have been. George Wyner is believable as a man resigned to play the cards that life has dealt him, his inner rage swept under the carpet long ago.

Richard Fancy’s slow delivery seems odd at first but as his story plays out, he manages to make you care. All three performers are seasoned pros and have put their hearts into this play.

Production values, like most shows by Rogue Machine, are high. Hillary Bauman’s set design, Leigh Roston’s lighting and Kate Bergh’s costume all complement the play.

Despite it’s running time of two and half hours, (including a ten minute intermission), Daytona manages to get under your skin. It deals with the loss of love, the will to survive and the difficulty of letting go, it’s tragic, fragile characters are not ones you are likely to forget.

When: Saturdays and Mondays at 8:30pm, and Sundays at 3:00pm through October 30, 2017 (no performances on Monday Sept. 25th & Oct. 2nd).

Where: Rogue Machine in The Met, 1089 N Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029.

Tickets: $40.00 Purchase at the box office starting at 7:30pm the night of the show. (Availability is limited).

Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com  

Photos by: John Perrin Flynn