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Monday, November 27, 2017

"Your Holiday Hit Parade" @ Broadway Rose

"Your Holiday Hit Parade" is the best of the Broadway Rose Holiday Revues I have seen. I'm going to be jokingly egotistical for a moment and claim credit for the newest offering having more of a "book" which i have been advocating for each year. The story revolves around 2 stranded motorists and the ghost who haunt an abandoned hotel. (The show was written by Dan Murphy and Rick Lewis, though I suspect it may have been "ghostwritten" by Jack Skelington, of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" fame.) Boy, I am just full of jokes.... There is also more of a set than in previous Broadway Rose holiday productions. As always, the band is fantastic, and the score features a moment my percussionist Mitch Wilson which stands out so much that it merits being projected on stage in silhouette.

I saw the first Sunday Matinee, which followed Thanksgiving, placing it on the cusp of acceptability for a Christmas-themed show. It was enough to push me over the threshold into a festive mood. I suspect it will do the same for you.

The Humans @ Artist's Rep

"The Humans" is somewhat difficult to review. I'll start by saying that it is quite simply splendid. The difficulty in writing about it lies in trying to explain why. The best, and most succinct way is to describe and laud its realism. Usually, "realism" is used as a synonym for "gritty." I use it here as the best way I can think of to denote that few other plays I've seen have been so true-to-life. The mother, Diedre, (Luisa Sermol)  seems achingly motherly. A woman who is both exasperating and endearing. The father, Erik Blake, (Robert Pescovitz) is equally Dad-ish, an incessant worrier about maintenance issues, and the like. Vanna O'Brien is outstanding in her role as the matriarch suffering from dementia, believable to frightening degree when she loses her grip.

It is as if playwright Stephen Karam recorded a Thanksgiving Meal and then simply transcribed it. Even the jokes seem unnervingly natural. Which makes it all the stranger when the play takes a breakneck turn towards a sadder tone. This turn is welcome, if sudden and arguably incongruous. The final minutes are bewildering, perhaps not in a negative way, though the people I chatted with at the Reception were similarly confused, so at least i'm not alone. None of this diminishes the remarkableness of the production as a whole, I suspect you will see someone you know represented by at least one these characters. Their sheer humanity is that striking.   

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"To Kill a Mockingbird" @ Lakewood

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of those shows that just demands to be seen. It's a show that despite the backing-up of my personal schedule, I still had to make sure I attended, even though it is now late in the all to brief run. See it before the explosion of yuletide cheer. See it for its unfortunate contemporary relevance. In short: See it as soon as possible. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles" @ PCS

There is much to admire in"Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles" There's the dreamlike Magical Realist set, with its beautifully askew angles, and truly remarkable bits of stage-magic. There's biting contemporary social-commentary, concerning all-too-urgent issues of immigration and assimilation. And I have joust now gained an appreciation for the Greek Mythological skeleton upon which the play is built. Unfortunately, I gained this insight too late to assist me in deciphering some of the play's more confusing moments, because I did not arrive in time to peruse the playbill adequately, and the relevant section is buried on the last page page of that play's section in the playbill which serves all three of PCS's current and upcoming productions. Something so crucial should be given more pride-of-place. Now that you know to look for it, you may have an even better time than I did.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"The Events" @ Third Rail Rep

"The Events" is a harrowing play, and unfortunately a topical one. My guess is that it was inspired by the massacres of Anders Behring Breivik, given the shooting's racial motivations. Sadly, in recent times, David Greig could have taken inspiration from any number of mass-shootings. Given the motive, it is a daring, yet confusing choice to cast a black actor in the role of the shooter. It is also just a mindbender of a play, and there are moments when more than two actors would have made the narrative easier to follow. However, Joseph Gibson is more than up to the task.

It is a cliche to call it haunting, but I think the word is apt, when it takes a day of "digestion" to write about the play. I wholeheartedly recommend "The Events". Catch it before it's all to brief run is over.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Marc Broussard @ Revolution Hall 10/13/17

Marc Broussard has mellowed just a bit. At first blush this would seem like a slightly unwelcome shift. In previous reviews, I've compared his performances to pyrotechnics. This most recent show, however, had a significant amount of down-tempo numbers. Selections I would later learn were from his brand-new album, "Easy to Love," a collection I would say represents Broussard most "balanced" work.

It fits in well with Broussard's previous two "SOS" Soul albums, but there are a few tracks that recall the most explosive of "Carencro", hence the "balance." It is a truly remarkable work.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

"Caught" @ Artists Rep

Huh. How does one write a review about a show in which nearly everything is designed to be a secret? There's always the cringe-inducing "Spoiler Alert," but everyone hates that--no one more so than a writer forced to use it.

In certain ways, this restriction on detail is a blessing. It prevents me from enumerating some of the discordant notes "Caught" strikes in service of twists-upon-twists.

So, all-in-all, I think it best to close with a few physical  details about the staging. Artist's Rep has changed the configuration of the theatre, and that is neat to see. This show also includes an art-installation component, a lot of which is interactive, and that too is a cool little flourish. I really do think that's all I should say....

Friday, October 6, 2017

"You in Midair" @ New Expressive Works

I like to believe that I have a preference for darker fare, but given the current influx of so many dark works, I am beginning to question whether or not that is actually my true preference. PCS's "Every Brilliant Thing" tackled depression and suicide, Third Rail's forthcoming "The Events" will take on a shooting at a choir practice, and "You in Midair" examines the murder of Rebecca Schaeffer, told as only a mother could.

Ms. Danna Schaeffer's brisk one-woman show is almost surely to be the most devastating piece of theatre this year. That said, somehow there's room for completely unexpected humor, mostly dealing with the unrealistic expectations of outsiders about how grief should be processed.

The show's greatest asset is its honesty, it's unashamed willingness to tell the truth. Ms. Schaeffer has no time for weak platitudes. She's the kind of person who finds solace in a book of quotes about death, because they are real, and not designed to bring comfort to someone who can't be comforted, and knows it.

Wounds heal, because unhealed wounds lead to death. But, we are seldom reminded that a synonym for "healed wound" is "scar," and scars are with us every day. Our inclination is to cover them, because they are not pretty. But, real bravery lies in letting them show, because they are the reason you're allowed to go on. They represent imperfect repair of that which is irreparable. They are an honor to see.

Monday, October 2, 2017

"Trails" @ Broadway Rose

"Trails" has all the expected hallmarks of a  Broadway Rose production: A  surprisingly expansive set, given the intimacy of the theatre, a top-notch cast, and a solid band. What was unexpected was the subject-matter, which was a shade or two darker than their typical fare. It is a welcome change. That said, my only real quibble with "Trails" lies in the script's tendency to "tease" the tragedy at its center just a bit too much. Hinting at it and then trailing-off begins to grate after a while.

The "trail" of the title is the Appalachian Trail. Two childhood friends walk it on a journey of self-discovery. They confront aging, ("Thirty-four is halfway to sixty-eight") and old rivalries and resentments, culminating a little late in the aforementioned tragedy.

All in all, I would recommend "Trails," but again, be warned, and/or excited by its unusualness.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"Every Brilliant Thing" @ PCS

I  must confess to many misgivings about "Every Brilliant Thing," from the fact that it revolves around a list first begun by a young child, to that it has a very heavy audience-participation component.

Some of the audience-participation is fairly inconsequential, such as being called upon to recite a numbered list-item aloud. But, other roles filled by audience-members are pivotal, like that of a school guidance-counselor who I would've bet my last dollar was a plant. According to director Rose Riordan, this role is cast by finding a woman wearing easily-accessible socks, (I won't ruin the reason why.) She may have been selected for her socks, but the vintage glasses she wore were undoubtedly a plus. If indeed her lines were completely unscripted, they happened upon a champion ad-libber. (My list item was one sentence long, and part of my mind was racing with thoughts of ruining the flow of the show had I dropped it, or something similar.) I can only imagine what she was feeling.

It seems almost embarrassingly obvious to note that the success of a one-man show rests on the shoulders of that actor, but it must be said that Isaac Lamb effortlessly exudes effervescence. (Ah, alliteration.) The list of Every Brilliant Thing was written as a child's ode to optimism to counteract his mother's severe depression, and we must see that optimism shine ever-so-slightly in Lamb at all times, even as he begins to despise The List himself. Because he succeeds at this, we are "with" him the whole way.

 That said, in my discussion with Ms. Riordan she invited me to come back, and I may, but probably for closing-night, because the number of emotions you are made to experience in a brisk 70 minutes make for a rough ride. But, it certainly is a Brilliant Thing.