Robin Williams

a kate west tribute

No, I never met him, never knew him. But, like so many others lately, I keep thinking about him. Even dreaming about him. And it's not that far-fetched that I might have met him. I used to live in Los Angeles and used to work in the improv world, where you can meet lots of I-knew-them-whens (I met Eddie Izzard, for instance, OK well when he was actually famous and I also knew lots of other "befores" but never mind that now). Still, only friends and family can mourn him in a specifically personal way. Right? Then why are the rest of us still so sad?

I think because he was always there. Since our childhoods. We didn't think about him all the time but if he showed up suddenly (like in a recent episode of "Louie") it was like seeing an old friend. And even when he made terrible movies (you know which ones), it was still delightful to watch him just be him. Or even when scripted, being someone else, doing it with his classic 100% commitment. And oh, those powerful performances ("The World According to Garp", "Dead Poets Society", "Good Morning, Vietnam" etc.), they were from the heart, direct from him to you. Not everyone with that impressive an imagination can deliver sincerity, but he had such a huge soul that boy did it shine through. 

Sometimes he was hard to work with (apparently), but only because he couldn't be contained. It was impossible to completely reign in that spontaneity, and the humanity in the heart of the audience loves the unexpected. And God, he was funny. Mind-blowing to think he made it all up on the spot. And could go on for hours. Unstoppable. No wonder he was the best genie ever.

And also because he was supposed to have been nice. Been really sweet. Which always makes watching celebrities that much, well, nicer. Like Carol Burnett. And he loved the Bay Area. And bicycles (who could hold that against him?) But mostly, because 63 is too damn young to snuff out a talent giant, in any circumstances. The tragic method gave the headline an exclamation point, but it would have been headlines, regardless. The man was beloved, as apparent from the outpouring of grief from his peers and then everyone else. We're all still talking about him after all. Reading the tributes, catching up on his old interviews, and of course re-watching his classics.

I too have been binge-watching his movies lately and noticed many of them have morbid references - some throw-away line about death or suicide, mortality or heaven. Haven't gotten through all of them yet, so don't have an official tally. But it's interesting, in light of the now. Who knew that he carried so much with him? I mean at least the general public didn't know. Maybe friends and family didn't know it all. We never know it all, do we? Yes, comedians can be sad. Even miserable. Angry. There's that whole Pagliacci thing. Not to stereotype. But still ....

As many Facebookers posted, "This one hurts." Gentle Mork is gone. He could play dark so well ("One Hour Photo") but really shone at innocence ("Hook", "Popeye"). The man child who was supposedly so shy IRL but was always, always nice.

He could do delight and wonder so very well.

My favorite is "The Birdcage", which seemed like unusual casting at the time and now seems so perfect. The irrepressible Robin Williams let Nathan Lane steal the show, while still being brilliantly funny as the understated club owner. He played against Gene Hackman, for God's Sake. And against Robert DeNiro in "Awakenings", always holding his own.

And I really loved him being the father who would do anything for his kids ("Mrs. Doubtfire"). Such a ridiculous premise made pure just by the conviction of that nanny (not unlike Dustin Hoffman as "Tootsie" - commitment will get you a long way).

It was obvious he loved what he did.

Until recently. I guess. He radiates unhappiness in some of his more recent work ("The Big Wedding"), at least to me.

But what do I know. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. I do know that it's possible to miss someone you've never met, but still feel you know. I also know he influenced many and brought joy to countless others. He was a definite force in this world and his absence sucks. There is nothing else to say.

From Inside the Actors Studio, on January 29, 2001: James Lipton asks Robin Williams: "If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?" 

Williams: "There's seating at the front. The concert begins at five. It'll be Mozart, Elvis and one of your choosing. If heaven exists, to know that there's laughter, that would be a great thing … just to hear God go, 'Two Jews walk into a bar…' "

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Land of Smiles

a kate west review
directed by Rick Culbertson
book, music lyrics by Erin Kamler
choreography by Kimiko Broder
at Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles 90013
running July 23-26, 2014
contact LATC or call 213-489-0994
website: Land of Smiles

Whether or not Thailand is still truly "The Land of Smiles" or merely another ravaged third world country cannot be debated in a day. But shedding some light on a few distraught humans may help educate westerners in the complexities of Thai politics.

Erin Kamler (best known for "Divorce! The Musical") tries to do just that with her latest show "The Land of Smiles", a musical about human trafficking (yes, you read that right). Countries like Thailand and Burma are infamous for harboring sex slave workers, yet the western perception of its inner workings may not be so black and white, something Kamler started to understand after spending a great deal of time in those regions and conducting about 50 interviews.

In the show, Lipoh (Jennie Kwan) is "rescued" from a local brothel by the NGO (non-governmental organization) and aided by an idealistic case worker from Indiana, Emma Gable (Amanda Kruger). Gable soon realizes however, that Lipoh does not see herself as a victim, but rather a dutiful daughter doing what she can to help her war-torn village and her family.

Soon Nu (Kerry K. Carnahan) and Nono (Yardpirun Poolun) are a two-women chorus representing Lipoh's Auntie, her Madam, her fellow brothel worker and her mother, among others. They drift in and out, as the story goes back and forth, showing us glimpses of agonizing past decisions and anxiety-ridden futures. Meanwhile, Gable's office workers, Lewelyn Brand (Ann Fink) and Achara Montri (Ren Hanami) push her to get answers, fill quotas and urge her to "fix" Lipoh as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the complex lives of the girls are not so easily fixed and even in the office the two conflicting viewpoints, Christian (Brand) and Buddhist (Montri) give Gable a headache.

Indeed, a visit to a local brothel shows Emma Gable that not all prostitutes are unwilling and that maybe more time and more investigating needs to trump any quick fix. Carnahan and Poolun demonstrate this quite well singing "Women Power" as confident ladies of the night, advising Gable to find the legitimate sufferers (it's one of the show stoppers). Amanda Kruger sweetly sings the plaintive "I'm Sure Indiana is Fine" as she realizes that merely signing a check and going back to our American lives is not enough to help these women.

Erin Kamler once again shows her versatility and creativity with skillful lyric writing and a passionate story. The music works well with the story and the actors make natural transitions when bursting into song. Kimiko Broder's choreography and Rick Culbertson's direction bind Kamler's work into a thought-provoking piece. Jennie Kwan and Amanda Kruger are the standout stars, while Yardpirun Poolun combines comic relief with passionate sensuality as an audience favorite.

The show has been cut for time, to trim it down for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival so this particular week of previews don't expect the same show twice. Just let the artists tinker as they may and enjoy the music. Wouldn't hurt to spend a little time soul searching as well.

See it before "Land of Smiles" hits the Fringe Festival.

See previous review here. Check out Erin's websites here and here and the Fringe info here.

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a kate west review
music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
book by Enda Walsh, based on the movie by John Carney
directed by John Tiffany
at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles
running July 15 - August 10, 2014
contact (800) 982-2787 or(323) 468-1770

The musical "Once" is based on the movie by the same name, a simple boy-meets-girl love story set in Dublin. Cue swooning. Glen Hansard and Mark√©ta Irglov√° created the original, despite being more musicians than actors and to their surprised delight, had a hit on their hands. Obviously the next step was to turn the charming beloved film into a Broadway musical. And now you can see it right here in Hollywood.

To tweak it for the stage, the action revolves around a bar set (and audience members are free to roam it before the show and during intermission to get an over-21 drink). When a starry view is needed, the actors move to a second level. Chorus members are bona fide musicians who play various characters (with a continuing game of musical chairs) when not wowing us with their musical prowess. The leads, Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal, deftly match their cinematic counterparts, with a sweet courtship alive with splendidly lovely music. 

If you've seen the movie, you know how it ends. Suffice to say, there is much yearning and sighing and even more singing. The original music fits quite well into the staged story and the addition of interacting musicians keeps a theatrical feel. Martin Lowe, Steven Hoggett and John Tiffany should be proud of this stage adaptation as it maintains the story's integrity while providing some new twists.

Highlights: "Falling Slowly", "If You Want Me", "When Your Mind's Made Up"

See previous review here. Read more!

Help Prevent “Hot Car” Dog Fatalities

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Business, Ethics, and Compassion:
A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama

Monday, February 24, 2014 @ 10 a.m. in the Leavey Event Center

For the first time, the Dalai Lama visits Santa Clara University for a talk concerning business, ethics, and compassion from the heart of the Silicon Valley. Learn more...

The event is cosponsored by SCU’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
Watch Event Videos
Watch Event Videos
Business, Ethics, and Compassion: A Public Dialogue
10 - 11:30 a.m.
Incorporating Ethics and Compassion into Business Life: A Conversation between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Academic and Business Leaders
1:30 - 3:15 p.m.
Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
Read for more information, including what items and bags will not be allowed at the event.

University Event Planning Office 1-408-554-6911 |
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Don't Mess With The Jesuits!

(or Santa Clara University)

SCU became a target in Glenn Beck's show last night when Beck went into a rant about Reza Aslan '95, "He was a Christian before going into college and colleges are doing a great job of churning people out that are not Christians anymore. It's there that his professors started 'teaching' him...So it's not surprising to me that the elitist, godless professors sway him away from Jesus."

Clearly, he has no clue about our professors, who we are, and what we do. Please support our alum, our professors, and our school by sharing this across your social networks.

We are Jesuit educated, and proud of it!! Read more!

Love, Sex and Missed Connections

a kate west review
directed by Eric Kissack; produced by Lisa Rudin
written by Kenny Stevenson
Official website:

Real-life married couple, the ridiculously talented Kenny Stevenson and Dorien Davies, have worked together a lot, mostly in comedy. So it makes perfect sense that they would make a funny romantic movie together (yup,a rom-com). They play a misguided pair suffering from the pains of recent break-ups in the delightful script by Stevenson, "Love, Sex and Missed Connections." Garnering film festival awards* from all over the country, this charming film stars friends, colleagues and their dog Zoe. And it is obviously a labor of love, judging from the very real chemical sparks between the two stars (and the fun everyone else seems to be having).

Neal (Stevenson) tries hopelessly to bury the nightmare of walking in on his girlfriend having sex with another guy. On their couch. His friends Barry and George try to drag him back to the dating world and get him right back on the 'ol saddle. Since nothing else seems to be working, Neal attempts their plan of responding to missed connections ads, pretending to be the guy lonely girls are searching for in order to take advantage of their disappointment when the real guy doesn't show. It works like a charm and he gets laid - a lot. That is, until he runs into Jane (Davies), who places fake ads to turn the tables on the opposite sex (it's complicated - but so is love, right?)

Funny things happen. Actually, pretty hilarious stuff. Since the cast has a background in comedy, they all know their way around one-liners. Shane Elliot and Alex Enriquez are hilarious as goofballs Barry and George, Avi Rothman is hilarious as friend Allan who sleeps with the ex Christine (Julie Mitchell) and appears naked in Neal's dreams, Stephanie Escajeda and Scott Beehner are hilarious as well-meaning awkward relatives Jillian and Daren, all of the missed connections are hilarious and those one-liners are definitely hilarious. And look out for minor characters with hilariously big encounters. But more than that, the underlying message of overcoming the crippling effects of a broken heart is touching and relatable. The zingers are nice and fun, but as they are supported by a sincere and heartfelt story, everything works. You laugh at the silly and root for the broken.

Director Eric Kissack puts together some nicely edited shots (and he's got the background to back that up) and Kenny Stevenson puts together a nicely written film, eliciting instant sympathy for the characters and holding our attention for the duration (it's 77 minutes, in case you were wondering). Stevenson and Davies shine as the lovelorn soul mates and are lovely to watch and cheer. There is not one wrong note here and the entire cast and crew is to be commended for a job well done and a story well told. Catch it live at a film festival near you, or at least watch it here.

Seriously, look how cute they all are:

*The Awards ... so far:
2013 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival – Best Narrative Feature
2012 Naples International Film Festival – Indie Spirit Award
2012 New Hampshire Film Festival – Audience Award
2012 Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival - Best Of Fest
2012 Big Bear Lakes International Film Festival – Audience Award – Best Feature Film
2012 Traverse City Film Festival – Special Jury Prize – First Time Director
2012 Woods Hole Film Festival – Audience Award Best Comedy Feature
2012 Boston International Film Festival – Indie Spirit Story Line Award
2012 Cleveland International Film Festival – American Independent Award
2012 Indie Spirit Film Festival – Screener’s Choice Award
2012 Cinetopia International Film Festival – Cinetopia Laurels Award
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One Night With Janis Joplin

a kate west review
created, written, directed  by Randy Johnson
starring Mary Bridget Davies
at the Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena 91101
call (626) 356-PLAY (7529) or click here (
running March 15 – April 21, 2013

Janis Joplin. Queen of Rock and Roll. Legend. Icon. Tragic figure. The young lady with the smokey bluesy voice. Once you heard it, you never, ever forgot it. She was big, as in larger than life, consuming and sharing music with a vibrant passion. It is hard to define a soulful voice of pain. But Joplin had it. As did Billie Holiday. These were voices that spoke to the deep ache within and moved you out of your head and into a world of feeling. Joplin learned from the best voices: Bessie Smith, Etta James, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, just to name a few. She destroyed any preconceived notions of female performers and unapologetically put herself smack in the middle of rock and roll history forever. If you never had the luck to hear her in concert, now's your chance.

The Pasadena Playhouse presents "One Night With Janis Joplin", starring Mary Bridget Davies as the volatile and utterly relatable Janis. Accompanied by fine rock and jazz musicians and back-up singers, Davies plays the "live" version of Joplin, up close and personal. Her iconic influences (Smith, James, Simone, Franklin) join her from time to time in the form of Sabrina Elayne Carten, who charges up the stage with dynamic intensity. Talk about playing to the crowd. She'll have you dancing in the aisles.

And then there's Mary Bridget Davies. Don't look for a one-woman show or a straight biography. This is a real and raw version of Janis, giving us a real honest-to-God rock concert, just like in the old days. Davies resurrects the unforgettable Janis, matching her singularly raspy voice  (and clothing) with enormous enthusiasm and tremendous skill. In between (and during) sets, she talks to us, like Janis would, with that iconic growly laugh, telling us that nothing made her feel more alive than being with us, on stage, hearing that spirit-lifting applause. Davies is able to channel the rock star so acutely that for a moment you are transported back to a time where sex, drugs and rock and roll began, way, way back all the way. To the 1960's. Hers is a definitive performance that must not be missed. Not too many shows in Los Angeles need standing ovations (seriously we must stop standing for every single show already) but this one truly does. It demands acknowledgement for the blood, sweat and tears so obviously wrung out (from the past to the present) and given live, just for us. Lucky, lucky us. Randy Johnson is to be commended for his excellent idea of this show, come to life in such big style. You can feel Janis still with us, her presence felt so strongly as Davies sings to the rafters.

No one sang like Janis. She did amazing original music as well as amazing revamping of old music. No one had her kind of broad style either. We all know that Joplin died too young. This performance doesn't speak to that, except to say that Joplin was happiest on stage, singing her heart out, and who can really sustain that depth of need?

"I think I sound like a white chick singing the 'blues'. There was just something about that ache I heard that got me bad. After all, the blues is just a bad woman feeling good." - Janis Joplin (1943-1970)

A sampling of just some of the great classic Joplin songs you will hear:

Bye Bye Baby
Ball and Chain
Piece of My Heart
Me and Bobby McGee
Mercedes Benz

Visit here:

Mary Bridget Davies and Sabrina Elayne Carten in a scene from “One Night With Janis Joplin.” Photo by Janet Macoska. 

Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin. Photo by Jim Cox.

Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin. Photo by Jim Cox. Read more!

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

a kate west review
book, music, lyrics by Rupert Holmes
directed by Scott Ellis
musical direction by Paul Gemignani
choreographed by Warren Carlyle
a Roundabout Theatre Company production
at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, New York, NY, 10019
running  November 13, 2012 - March 10, 2013
contact (212) 719-1300 or click here

Charles Dickens never finished writing "The Mystery of Edwin Drood". He died instead. So of course the only thing to do was to turn it into a musical and have the audience guess the ending. Right? That was the idea behind Rupert Holmes' vision anyway. Who better for the job than Roundabout Theatre, who sure do like to put on some fun productions (see previous review here). "Drood" (in grand old music hall tradition no less)  is no exception. And what's even more fun? To perform at the most famous former night club in the world, Studio 54. So now you'll want to see the show so you'll be able to say you were there too, just like Andy Warhol. Can't get hipper than that.

Edwin Drood (Stephanie J. Block of "Wicked" fame) is a Victorian gentleman (yep, played by a woman to stir up more mystery) who suddenly disappears. Is he dead? Who killed him? His fiance Rosa (Betsy Wolfe) or his rival John Jasper (Will Chase) or the suspicious eastern foreigners, Helena and Neville Landless (Jessie Mueller and Andy Karl)? The possibilities are endless and there is no shortage of audience participation in figuring it all out, so be forewarned. But don't worry, there is a narrator, the Chairman (Jim Norton), who guides us in the plot and in our reactions, occasionally jumping in and out of characters (as do most of the cast). A cheery Master of Ceremonies, fitting for a raucously bawdy-lite evening.

In this particular production, Chita Rivera was supposed to play Princess Puffer, madame of an underground opium den, but was substituted with Alison Cimmet, who was just fine (her normal role of Violet Balfour went to Jenifer Foote). In fact, the entire ensemble shows us a romping good time and sing some rowdy songs, including "There You Are", "Moonfall", "Ceylon" and "Off to the Races". The first act might drag a bit but the second act involves the spectators even more directly so that will definitely rouse you. The actors are all pros of course, and laughter abounds (unlike the dreary notes of the original novel). Block does a great disgruntled diva.

It's a play-within-a-play, with actors playing actors playing Dickens characters, but mostly talking to us. Some of them will run about the aisles and yes, might drag up an unsuspecting patron of the arts right there on stage. But everyone seems so earnest and of such enthusiastic good cheer that you can't help but be drawn into the fun, especially with all the asides and winks going on. Plus you get to choose the ending. And maybe sing a few notes yourself. A charming production, "Drood" delivers the fun, if not all the answers. But what fun would life be without a little mystery? Read more!