The 9 O’clock 10:17 Comedy Night
a kate west review
Saturdays at the Gershwin Hotel, 7 E. 27th Street, between 5th and Madison, New York NY, $5 only.
Info: (212) 932-3767 or http://www.1017comedy.com

Husband and wife team Michael Birch and Bricken Sparacino have served up yet another entertaining show with their long running 10:17 Comedy Troupe playing at the Gershwin Hotel on Saturday nights. The five dollar admission charge is the cheapest rate for the most laughs in town. Every week is a different show so it is well worth seeing multiple times.

Last week, September 27, the talented line up included stand-ups Erin Foley, Andres du Bouchet, Dan Allen and Jessica Delfino. Du Bouchet spars playfully with the audience and Delfino is a special delight accompanying her quirky outlook on life with some fun guitar strumming. And as if all that weren’t enough joy, the troupe itself (this time consisting of Glenn Stoops, Eric Chercover, Michael Birch and Bricken Sparacino) pepper the evening with comedy sketch, song and miscellaneous ad-libbing.

Birch and Sparacino are excellent hosts, making the audience feel completely comfortable as if we were right in their cozy living room. Two highlights include Sparacino’s monologue as an outraged Barbie, reprimanding Saudi Arabia for banning her likeness and Birch serving up some funny “improvised” singing with musical partner Eric Chercover as the Mike Birch Caucasian Experience. The entire evening is a delight and the gracious hosts welcome you to smooze with the cast afterwards, creating a fun and relaxed atmosphere so when they pick on you it’s good natured fun as if being teased by your family.

Definitely a good bargain for your buck, especially in New York. Go see it soon! Read more!

LOR Saga

The Lord of the Rings Saga
Films and Books
a kate west favorite

(Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins)

An absolute success from the very beginning, Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy wowed audiences as a box office hit; not bad for three epic movies, each three whole hours long. At least. Taken from the modern classic novels of J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), the films are scrupulously true to the original novels, with but a few very minor deviations not even worth mentioning. Jackson captures the essential characters perfectly and his eye for casting is sublime.

Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) is Bilbo Baggins’ (Ian Holm) favorite nephew and a Hobbit (small, jovial and gentle creatures). Bilbo must have passed on his vivid wanderlust (read “The Hobbit” for details) onto Frodo as both of them encounter incredible adventures in their full lives. The most important quest by far is that of the great ring of power, forged for the evil Sauron, a demon lord trying to take over Middle Earth.

Tolkien painstakingly created Middle Earth and even developed complicated languages for his characters. A contemporary of the Christian writer C.S. Lewis, he himself was Roman Catholic. He incorporated much of that mysticism and symbolism into his works and in his worlds, good is constantly pitted against evil, causing much internal conflicts. Having lived through both World Wars (and witnessing Tolkien cult fanaticism), Tolkien was acutely aware of the corruption of power and mania and of how kingdoms can be felled. The message of his novels is always that good will prevail, but often at heavy cost.

In the films, as in the books, the cost in “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy is the death of some main characters and the toll on everyone’s soul. To begin with, Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellan) tasks Frodo with bringing the ring into the heart of Mordor and the fires of the Mount Doom, which will destroy its sinister power forever. To aid the valiant Hobbit is the Fellowship of the Ring, consisting of three fellow Hobbits, a Ranger, Gandalf, a Dwarf, an Elf and a second mortal human, Boromir (Sean Bean). Their quest ends up taking them all on different paths, finding their dark destinies and ultimately returning to the light in one fashion or another.

Frodo and his loyal friend Sam (Sean Astin) encounter Gollum (voiced by Andy Serkis, with most visuals done by CGI*), on their lonely last leg of the journey. Gollum had the ring long ago (no one ever truly owns the ring) and its siren song compels him to follow it all the way to his doom, having already been twisted into a sub being, tragically far from his origins. He serves as a warning to Frodo not to let himself be swallowed up by the magic of the ring, and thankfully, Sam is at hand to help him stay strong.

Meanwhile, heroic Strider/Aragon (Viggo Mortensen), the ancient mortal King Isildur’s heir; gallant Legolas the Elf (Orlando Bloom) and the fierce Dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) seek the other two lost Hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan from television’s “Lost”) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). Boromir and brother Faramir (David Wenham), heirs to the Gondor throne have unresolved family issues, adding even more dimension to the characters' stories. Other standout characters are the elegant Fairy Queen, Lady of Light and Wood, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elven leader Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and his beautiful daughter Arwen (Liv Tyler), in love with Aragon. Elves are pretty cool in general, as well as mighty warriors, like Haldir (Craig Parker) another suave hero. Talking trees, goblins, orcs and more populate this fantastical world. Suffice it to say, you have plenty to look at and will want to view these magnificent films over and over again.

Peter Jackson truly understands Tolkien’s world and visualizes a gorgeously filmed work of art. It’s touching, breathtaking, so musically apt, wonderfully acted and beautifully costumed. Tolkien inspired many storytellers, in fantasy and science fiction alike, and his works continue to spark the imagination. It is a credit to Jackson that his Oscar-award winning epics do fine justice to the beloved novels.

*Computer Graphics Interface: A digitalized imaging process of computer animating characters on screen.

The Trilogy:
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Peter Jackson

Writing Credits:
J.R.R. Tolkien (novels)
Fran Walsh (screenplay)
Philippa Boyens (screenplay)
Peter Jackson (screenplay)

Alan Howard ... The Ring (voice)
Noel Appleby ... Everard Proudfoot
Sean Astin ... Sam Gamgee, Hobbit
Sala Baker ... Sauron, Dark Lord
Sean Bean ... Boromir of Gondor
Cate Blanchett ... Galadriel, Lady of Light, of Wood
Orlando Bloom ... Legolas Greenleaf, Elf
Billy Boyd ... Peregrin 'Pippin' Took, Hobbit
Marton Csokas ... Celeborn, Elf Husband of Gladriel
Brad Dourif ... Grima Wormtongue
Megan Edwards ... Mrs. Proudfoot
Michael Elsworth ... Gondorian Archivist
Mark Ferguson ... Gil-Galad, Elf King of Noldor
Bernard Hill ... King Theoden of Rohan
Ian Holm ... Bilbo Baggins, Hobbit
Christopher Lee ... Saruman, The White Wizard
Lawrence Makoare ... Lurtz, Uruk-Hai (half Orc/half Man)
Brent McIntyre ... Witch-King
Ian McKellen ... Gandalf the Grey
Peter McKenzie ... Elendil, Father of Isildur
Sarah McLeod ... Rosie Cotton, Hobbit
Dominic Monaghan ... Merry, Hobbit
Viggo Mortensen ... Aragorn/Strider, Isildur's heir
Ian Mune ... Bounder
John Noble ... Denethor, Father of Boromir & Faramir
Miranda Otto ... Eowyn, Shield Maiden of Rohan
Craig Parker ... Haldir, Elf Captain
Cameron Rhodes ... Farmer Maggot
John Rhys-Davies ... Gimli the Dwarf
Martyn Sanderson ... Gate Keeper
Andy Serkis ... Gollum/Voice of The Witchking
Harry Sinclair ... Isildur, Past King of Gondor
Liv Tyler ... Arwen, Elf
David Weatherley ... Barliman Butterbur, Owner Prancing Pony
Hugo Weaving ... Elrond, father of Arwen
David Wenham ... Faramir, brother of Boromir
Elijah Wood ... Frodo Baggins, Hobbit

Start with the first LOR Book:
The Lord of the Rings (Collector's Edition)

Special Edition Film Series:
The Lord of the Rings - The Motion Picture Trilogy (Platinum Series Special Extended Edition) Read more!

Bob's Office Party

Bob’s Holiday Office Party
a kate west review
by Rob Elk and Joe Keyes, Directed by Justin Tanner
at The Elephant Asylum Theater, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles,
(323) 960-7717, www.bobsofficeparty.com, LAST WEEK

A new Hollywood Christmas tradition, “Bob’s Holiday Office Party” is a silly, drunken farce which blurs in your memory like a holiday hangover from a really wild party. Indeed, this appears to be the playwrights’ intent. The title character, Everyman Insurance Agent, Bob Finhead (Rob Elk), holds his annual Christmas party for his loyal and colorful eccentric small town clients. The main plotline is that in one evening, he must make a life decision affecting everyone. In the meantime, the audience is entertained by a parade of increasingly bizarre and tipsy characters who pop in and out of the action, sharing and stealing focus from one another in a joyous free-for-all. Two standouts include the hilarious Johnson sisters (the talented Laura Carson and Maile Flanagan) who echo each other with merry intensity.

It is great fun to watch each character become progressively more insane, from the likeable stoner slacker Marty (Mark Fite) to the rigidly anally repressed Margie Mincer (Andrea Hutchman), embroiled in a love affair with Bob. Ann Randolph does a good job also of balancing her two extreme characters, polar opposite twin sisters, Carol and Brandy.

Playwrights Rob Elk and Joe Keyes (playing Bob and Joe Walker, respectively), tie things up nicely with simple conflict resolutions, complete with an apparently ineffective meek villain, Elwin Beewee (subtly portrayed by Pat O’Brien), who comes back into town to confront his childhood bullies and avenge himself. Director Justin Tanner sets a fast-paced tone, dotted with outrageous antics such as Joe’s over-the-top “orgy” with the Johnson sisters and wanton Brandy’s brazen sexual openness.

All in all, it is clear that the creators and actors have polished the production over the few years it’s been running and are having the time of their lives cavorting on stage. Silly yes, and not particularly deep or meaningful so don’t go looking for lessons to be learned. It is obviously not for the serious-minded. Then again, it’s Christmas. So if you are already on your way towards holiday debauchery, stop by the Elephant for a preview of holiday madness. Read more!

Take Me Out

“Take Me Out” by Richard Greenberg
a kate west review
directed by Joe Mantello
at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W 48th Street, New York, NY
(212) 239-6200

A typical baseball fan would be naturally inclined to see the new Tony-award winning hit Broadway play about the all-American pastime. Richard Greenburg’s latest work, “Take Me Out,” seemingly offers a little something for the non-athletic as well.

At the start of the play, Darren Lemming, Empire’s (very much like the Yankees) star African-American player has just unexpectedly come out of the closet in a major press conference. He is stoically and majestically portrayed by Daniel Sunjata, very much like Derek Jeter. His teammate Kippy, played by the affable Neal Huff, is the narrator explaining the repercussions of Darren’s announcement and how all the “trouble” started. At first, Darren’s self-identity is marked by an incredible arrogance. He is impatient with both his denouncers and his defenders, not wishing to be a poster boy for someone else’s idea of a hero. He just wants to play ball. Enter Shane Mungitt, played by the delightfully awkward Frederick Weller. He is a taciturn, unrefined redneck who can pitch a hell of a game. Kippy’s attempt to take him under his wing eventually backfires as can no longer deny the depth of Shane’s racism nor Darren’s latent anger which leads to a disturbingly violent confrontation.

The play explores every range of emotion, however never fully connects with the theme of baseball. Also, the light-heartedness in the first half clashes with the heavy and dark second half of the play with almost no reconciliation. The dialogue is a bit unrealistic for regular ballplayers, as the author tends to overwrite his characters, resulting in a rather stilted characterization. One exception is Denis O’Hare, whose accountant Mason Marzac comes closet to representing the author’s voice. His poignant speech about the nobility and tradition of baseball is one of the more beautiful homages in recent theater. However moving it does not tie all the story lines together. O’Hare does a superb job of conveying a full range of character in a relatively minor role. He is delightfully original.

Director Joe Mantello does a solid job of staging and Scenic Designer Scott Pask creates a realistically interchangeable ballpark and athletic locker room, complete with working showers. An extra bonus for the patrons is watching these fit young Broadway boys disrobe and play in running water. The grating catches all the runoff and prevents slipping for anyone worrying about the actors’ safety.

Overall the production is slightly disappointing but the strong core of actors keep the audience’s attention throughout. Worthwhile for the fun baseball references alone. Read more!

The Parlour Club

The Parlour Club
a kate west recommendation

7702 Santa Monica Blvd., Russian Quarter, West Hollywood

(323) 650-7968, every Friday, 10 p.m. – 2 a.m.

$5 for 21 and over; www.parlourclub.com.

Come back in time to revel in incredible 1920’s Jazz music, dance and fun cabaret style. Yes, it’s true. Show up late Friday night at the Parlour Club and the crazy cats there will reveal their secret of time travel in the amazingly bright and sassy show, “Bricktops.” Starring such sparkling entertainers as Mr. Uncertain (see below) and Vaginal Davis, plus DJ Bernice Bobserhair spinning les hot jazz nuggets and Tin Pan Alley favorites, the show features a group of talented cross-gender sprites who will make you believe in being young again.

Everyone dresses up 1920’s, so girls, be sure to go vintage shopping ahead of time and get those long strands of pearls and yummy fringe flapper dresses and guys, get those scrumptious era hats and come Charleston with the regulars. Fair warning - a poor, lost, wandering tourist may feel stuck in a time warp in his modern era blue jeans. Everyone, regardless of attire, will have the time of their lives.

Read more!

The Maids

“The Maids,” Camelot Artists Productions in association with
Vargo Productions
a kate west review
at Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254. S. Robertson, Beverly Hills
(323) 650-8729

For those a little rusty in Theater 101, Jean Genet was an internationally prominent French author famous for exposing the absurdity of life and emotion in his writing. The latest production of “The Maids” now playing at the Beverly Hills Playhouse is no exception. Genet’s own life defined contradiction. Publicly charged as a common thief, yet his real identity that of a brilliant author, his play also reflects that same dichotomy in life. Solange and Claire are two maids who take turns role-playing as mistress and servant. Genet’s own preference was to have men play all the parts in order to emphasize how illusionary one’s perception of life can be.

Director Maria Vargo takes the conventional approach and casts all women. She has the lead role as Solange, the older sister and the mastermind of the pair. The fact that they are sisters is yet another merging of identity; that of mistress and servant and sisters; Genet confuses roles by having the maids act out their daily game of pretend at the top of the play, surprising us when the supposed mistress suddenly turns back into a maid. Prevalent throughout is a deep self hatred and anger prompting the two sisters to plot their mistress’ demise. They hate and love her, pretend to be her, thus hating and loving themselves. An intensely introspective and uncomfortable work, “The Maids” forces the viewer to look into the deeply dark recesses of the human consciousness and soul.

Vargo plays an intensely determined Solange and holds her own opposite the irrepressible Madame, played by the delightful Natalia Magni. She gives a complex performance and is especially moving during her finally monologue, although Magni has a bit more of a naturally graceful stage presence. Stacy Stewart as Claire is the weaker link, her intentionally bad French accent as the pretend Madame a little grating and her performance stiff.

The audience is captured throughout with Vargas’ solid directing and pulled into the cold horror as the sisters suffer dire consequences from their plot to kill Madame. Solange, the supposed braver of the two actually does nothing while her more delicate sister actively displays courage in a final desperate act. The underlying homosexual and sadism-masochism may be a little intense for some patrons, but those familiar with Genet will find it par for the course. On the whole, the production may have been more impressive with a stronger commitment from some of the actors. Read more!


“Passion” by Stephen Sondheim
a kate west review
at the East West Players, David Henry Hwang Theater
120 Judge John Iso Street, Los Angeles 90012, (213) 625-7000
Running September 10 – October 5, 2003

Most Sondheim musicals are difficult to stage, given the complexity of the music as well as the emotional depth each character exhibits. The East West Players do a fine job in their recent show “Passion.” From the fascinatingly dark set design (Victoria Petrovich) to the particular and economical directing by Tim Dang (also Artistic Director), this production certainly does justice to one of Sondheim’s best later works.

This achingly powerful and passionate story shows us the obsessive lengths to which someone in love will go. Handsome soldier Giorgio, aptly portrayed by Michael Dalager, is stationed in a strange, far-off barracks. There he befriends the host, Colonel Ricci (Orville Mendoza), brother to the odd, house-bound, invalid Fosca, exquisitely played by Jacqueline Kim. Fosca becomes immediately enamored of Giorgio and her passion for him initially repulses him and drives him away but he gradually sees that he cannot get her out of his mind and ultimately succumbs to her chronic seduction. At first he believes that he is in love with Clara (Linda Igarashi) who is a married mother. She refuses to leave her husband and that inspires Giorgio to see that Fosca’s twisted love for him is the only true passion in his life. From beginning to end, each character undergoes profoundly painful change in realizing the potential for deep passion. The climax of the play is a dramatic duel between Colonel Ricci and Giorgio, over the honor of Fosca.

While Michael Dalager (Giorgio) demonstrates the wonderful emotional resonance of a tortured lover, it is Jacqueline Kim as Fosca who steals the show. She perfects the consumptive’s sickly cough and the awkwardness of a deeply shy and backward woman who finds the strength to become her own woman, through the fierce love she has for Giorgio. Her characterization is inspired and her stage presence magnificently compelling. Orville Mendoza as the Colonel and Michael Hagiwara as Doctor Tambourri are among the minor characters who are not as strong in the ensemble but the main characters are well up to the task of creating magic.

Scott Nagatani does a fine job as Musical Director, not an easy feat with a Sondheim musical. The dark music is slightly discordant which serves to remind us that love does not follow normal paths in life and that there is never one true definition. Overall, the production is very strong musically and the dramatic conflicts well played out. It is well worth checking out this intensely odd and poignant piece.

Passion (1994 Original Broadway Cast) Read more!

8 Simple Rules

8 Simple Rules
a kate west reflection

Dear John,

I'm sorry I missed you in the first couple of seasons of "8 Simple Rules". I only caught part of the third and last season so I really didn't get to see you spar with your annoying t.v. neighbors, love your t.v. wife or lecture your t.v. children. I tuned in on reruns when they were all lamenting your passing. I'm so sorry. But you've really got to hand it to the writers - they did a fine and sensitive job incorporating those inner and outer worlds (with the exception of the what-were-they-thinking "Freaky Friday" episode - ick). That's what grabbed my attention in the first place. I was intrigued by the genuine emotion from the actors. It really helped audiences deal.

Kaley Cuoco and Amy Davidson are evenly matched sparring night-and-day sisters as the blonde peppy Bridget and the red-headed passionate Kerry and Martin Spanjers is adorable as your son Rory. Oh and I'm a big fan of Katey Sagal - she was so great as your grieving widow Cate. Did you get to work with James Garner as your father-in-law? Classic. Or David Spade as your cousin-in-law C.J.? Love the sarcastic one-liners.

I never read W. Bruce Cameron's original book "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" but I love the idea. I'll have to order a copy from Amazon now. And I'll have to Netflix your earlier episodes. It really is a charming show and I know everyone still misses you terribly. I watch when I can.

The 8 Simple Rules:
Rule One: If you pull into my driveway and honk you'd better be delivering a package, because you're sure as heck not picking anything up.

Rule Two:: You do not touch my daughter in front of me. You may glance at her, so long as you do not peer at anything below her neck. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off of my daughter's body, I will remove them.

Rule Three: I am aware that it is considered fashionable for boys of your age to wear their trousers so loosely that they appear to be falling off their hips. Please don't take this as an insult, but you and all of your friends are complete idiots. Still, I want to be fair and open minded about this issue, so I propose this compromise: You may come to the door with your underwear showing and your pants ten sizes too big, and I will not object. However, In order to assure that your clothes do not, in fact, come off during the course of your date with my daughter, I will take my electric staple gun and fasten your trousers securely in place around your waist.

Rule Four: I'm sure you've been told that in today's world, sex without utilizing a "barrier method" of some kind can kill you. Let me elaborate: when it comes to sex, I am the barrier, and I WILL kill you.

Rule Five: In order for us to get to know each other, we should talk about sports, politics, and other issues of the day. Please do not do this. The only information I require from you is an indication of when you expect to have my daughter safely back at my house, and the only word I need from you on this subject is "early."

Rule Six: I have no doubt you are a popular fellow, with many opportunities to date other girls. This is fine with me as long as it is okay with my daughter. Otherwise, once you have gone out with my little girl, you will continue to date no one but her until she is finished with you. If you make her cry, I will make YOU cry.

Rule Seven: As you stand in my front hallway, waiting for my daughter to appear, and more than an hour goes by, do not sigh and fidget. If you want to be on time for the movie, you should not be dating. My daughter is putting on her makeup, a process which can take longer than painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead of just standing there, why don't you do something useful, like changing the oil in my car?

Rule Eight: The following places are not appropriate for a date with my daughter: Places where there are beds, sofas, or anything softer than a wooden stool. Places lacking parents, policemen, or nuns. Places where there is darkness. Places where there is dancing, holding hands, or happiness. Places where the ambient temperature is warm enough to induce my daughter to wear shorts, tank tops, midriff T-shirts, or anything other than overalls, a sweater, and a goose down parka zipped up to her chin. Movies with a strong romantic or sexual theme are to be avoided; movies which feature chainsaws are okay. Hockey games are okay.

Goodnight John. Rest well.



John Ritter: Paul Hennessy (d. September 11, 2003)
Katey Sagal: Cate Hennessy
James Garner: Grandpa Jim
Kaley Cuoco: Bridget Hennessy
Amy Davidson: Kerry Hennessy
Martin Spanjers: Rory Hennessy
David Spade: C.J.

Production Credits:
W. Bruce Cameron (Book Author)
Lori Openden (Casting)
Tony Askins (Cinematographer)
Dan Foliart (Composer (Music Score))
Gil Junger (Director)
Joe Bergen (Editor)
Michael Bostick (Executive Producer)
Flody Suarez (Executive Producer)
Tom Shadyac (Executive Producer)
Tracy Gamble (Executive Producer)
Franco E. Bario (Producer)
Jay Pelissier (Production Designer)
Tracy Gamble (Screenwriter)

The Book:
8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter Read more!


AGA-BOOM, created/directed by Dimitri Bogatirev
a kate west review
at the Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank
call (818) 955-8101; running June 19 – August 24, 2003

Dimitri Bogatirev and Iryna Ivanytska from Cirque de Soleil’s “O” and “Alegria” and Philip Karp-Briggs from Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus are three highly talented clowns who make up the delightfully visual “Aga-Boom.” Granted its initial appeal is for children but it’s clever and whimsical enough to counter adult cynicism. The production begins with one clown (Ivanytska) sweeping up the stage, creating a hilarious routine of playing with audience while cheerily trying to extricate herself out of amusingly awkward situations. Bogatirev and Karp-Briggs soon join her on stage and the three of them create charming little comic vignettes for the next hour.

Be forewarned that in true clown tradition, they will pull innocent spectators on stage with them and torture them mercilessly. In one instance a blanketed audience member “corpse” was left on stage alone for a few moments. The audience loves this of course, especially the children who scream and jump in frenzied happiness all throughout the production. The bizarrely colorful costumes match the frantic mayhem pace of the action and the clever use of simple props, such as toilet paper and brooms. There are too many special moments to list here, it is infinitely better to experience this magical show in person and be marvelously surprised. Watch out for interesting beach balls to play with. This is a short, concise, excellent presentation of classic clowning and well worth the adventure. Read more!

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Tomlin and Wagner Theatricalz present Lily Tomlin in
a kate west review
Produced by Lily Tomlin, Directed by Jane Wagner
Running May 13 – July 6, 2003

In association with The Seattle Repertory Theatre and McCarter Theatre Center, now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Los Angeles Music Center (Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director/Producer, Charles Dillingham, Managing Director, Center Theater Group/Ahmanson Theatre).

Lily Tomlin once again proves herself to be one of the wittiest and most versatile comedic performers today. In the recent revival of “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, she and writer/director Jane Wagner create a delicious smorgasbord variety of delightful characters ranging from Trudy, the bag lady who communes with extraterrestrials to Agnus Angst, the rebellious pink-haired punk rocker teenager. She portrays prostitutes, society ladies, feminists and even men. Each of her personas is fully articulated and funny as hell. Although the material is at times a bit dated, we relish the unfolding of plot and mayhem with each story and the clever way every character is connected with each other. Most of the stories had the audience howling with laughter but sometimes there are poignantly dramatic moments which left us deeply moved.

The night I attended, billed as opening night, the audience was fairly throbbing with excitement and anticipation and many celebrities were in sight. I knew it was a special evening when Tomlin broke character after a short coughing spell, delighting the audience with her ad-libs. Her incredible stamina in sustaining several high energy characters was wonderful to watch. She is a true professional and her performance truly inspired. The show was about two hours long with the intermission but I was sure left wanting more.

I also need to mention the amazing technical crew, especially the sound designers, Tom Clark and Mark Bennett. Tomlin uses no props and makes no costume or set changes and yet we are awestruck by the reality of each character’s atmosphere. When she mimes pulling tissues out of a box, the sound is perfectly synchronized as it is when she is putting on mascara, zipping up her punk rock “costume,” answering the phone, opening and closing a sensory deprivation tank, and on and on.

No wonder the show has always been such a hit, was also nominated for Best Revival of a Play on Broadway and the hardcover edition of the play stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for months (the first play in 20 years to earn that distinction). This is a definite must must must see. Kudos to Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director/Producer of the Center Theatre Group, for having the foresight to share this production with Los Angeles. Read more!

Culture Clash Chavez Ravine

a kate west review
Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, May 17 - July 6, 2003, (213) 972-7376
Directed by Lisa Peterson,
Company: Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, Eileen Galindo, Herbert Siguenza, John Avila, Randy Rodarte, Scott Rodarte

For almost twenty years, the "premiere Chicano comedy troupe" known as Culture Clash has performed their remarkable sketch comedy around the country, including creating the first Latino-themed sketch comedy television show for Fox T.V.
Their latest accomplishment, the world premiere play "Chavez Ravine," tells the story of the 1940's - 50's controversial land development deal on an area called Chavez Ravine by locals in Los Angeles. Each historical character is depicted with the group's now characteristic comedic precision and zeal. This is rendered all the more authentic with excellent set (Rachel Hauck) and costume (Christopher Acebo) design, the stage itself a stylized baseball diamond with large panels that portray various moments in Chavez Ravine history.

At the top of the play, Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully (the superbly talented Richard Montoya) introduces the new rookie Mexican pitcher Fernando Valenzuela (a dead-on impersonation by Herbert Siguenza) who, in this production, symbolizes the culmination of local Chicano pride after several decades' long struggle. Through clever flashbacks, a story of betrayal, cynicism and greed unfolds as the Los Angeles City Housing Authority decides to build subsidized low income housing in Chavez Ravine. The newly elected Los Angeles Mayor, Norris Paulson (delightfully clueless Ric Salinas), succumbs to the sinister public figures who coerce him to cancel the housing project leaving the local immigrants homeless. Although the people revolt, including poet Manazar (Herbert Siguenza) and an activist named Maria (sweetly portrayed by Eileen Galinda), industry and progress march on and the people are torn from their homes and eventually the Brooklyn Dodgers take over Chavez Ravine and become the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Because the Culture Clash members are such accomplished story-tellers, each plotline is poignantly clear and one character is more enchanting than the next. Particularly amusing are Richard Montoya and Ric Salinas as the famous comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, recreating the wonderfully timeless "Who's On First" routine. They get so frustrated with each other at one point that they burst into a Spanish version! Hilarious. There is also a "seventh inning stretch" when the entire cast comes out and sings "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and encourages the audience to sing-along while throwing bags of peanuts about the auditorium.

Although the play is rife with "chicano-isms" and local inside jokes (Artistic Director Gordon Davidson is depicted at one point), you don't have to be familiar with local Los Angeles history or understand Spanish to enjoy this engaging production. Culture Clash is comprised of talented, funny, savvy individuals with the ability to transcend time and culture. It makes for a wonderful evening and along with stories skillfully depicted with humor, joy, compassion and pathos; you'll also get a free history lesson. Highly, highly recommended. Read more!

Beyond the Valley of the Deviants

In association with Celebration Theater and Dennis R. Nollette
a kate west review
7051 Santa Monica Blvd. (1/2 block east of La Brea)
Directed by Patrick Bristow
May 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, June 5, 12, 19
Reservations (323) 957-1884
Info & Group Rates (323) 656-0694

If you want to fall headlong into a screaming laughfest, by all means check out the latest vivacious production of the Deviant Laboratories. The Deviants are a multi-talented group of young comedy sketch artists consisting of Ted Cannon, Brian Clark, Drew Droege, Margee Magee, Tanya McClure, Nicol Paone, Michael Serrato and Scotty Scarboro. They are a terrific ensemble, all naturally funny and astonishingly energetic. The first show they performed at the Celebration Theater about a year ago was fresh, funny and new then and it is wonderful to see how much they have progressed beyond that. First of all, they added women, who give a better dynamic energy and balance to the show. Secondly, they have obviously been keeping up their improv skills because they were all dead on funny, quick and clever in the improv sets directed by Groundling Mitch Silpa. And please prepare yourself for the ridiculously entertaining opening and closing numbers, which are, thanks to the fabulous directing of Patrick Bristow (Groundling alum), a technicolor explosion of fast-paced, broad hilarity.

There were a few minor technical glitches opening night and the actors need to work on their projection so we can hear all the dialogue, which should not be difficult in such a small venue. Also some scenes were a bit weaker than others and could use some rewrites but overall, the characters were strong, original and engaging, particularly Michael Serrato in “Hot Soup,” Drew Droege’s Chloe Sevigny in “Meet the Press” and Nicol Paone’s Tony in “Tony, Toni, Tone” (Margee Magee and Tanya McClure were also fantastic in that one). Ted Cannon, Scotty Scarboro and Brian Clark, especially, held their own quite delightfully as well. Kudos to the entire cast for their obvious delight in working as a team, helmed by a brilliantly talented director.

This show was one of the most fun comedic productions I have seen in Los Angeles. Be a deviant. Go. Indulge and immerse yourself. Bring your friends. Laugh until you cry and then beg for more. It’ll be worth it. Read more!

The Nerd

The Nerd by Larry Shue
a kate west review
directed by David Rose at the Colony Theatre Company
555 N. Third Street, Burbank, (818) 558-7000, Opens June 7, 2003

Larry Shue, a promising young playwright whose writing career was tragically cut short at the age of 39, wrote one of his more successful plays, “The Nerd,” set in the 1980’s, shortly before his death. However, in the current production at the Colony Theater this play is fairly dated, the humor obvious and the characters seem to have stepped out of a 1940’s play. Although some of the actors were quite wonderful in the Colony’s previously acclaimed production of “The Laramie Project,” (Ed. F. Martin and Faith Coley Salie, respectively), it is disappointing to see the director, David Rose, allow the acting to be so broad.

The story is simple: William Cubbert (Ed. F. Martin) is a warm-hearted soul who has finally located Rick Steadman (French Stewart), the private soldier who saved his life in Vietnam. We learn this while Cubbert’s friends are celebrating his birthday. While he and his friends await his arrival, other characters are introduced such as an bothersome little boy (Justin M. Bretter) who keeps popping in and out of doors in an apparent attempt at farce. Jonathan Palmer is the stereotypical boss figure, Warnock Waldgrave, arriving with his mousy teacher wife, Clelia Waldgrave, played by Cindy Warren, who at least adds some interesting dimension to her nutty character. One of her characteristics is smashing saucer plates when upset, which Warren does with amusing relish. Ed F. Martin’s performance as Cubbert is relatively understated in comparison to his friends: Kevin Symons is sarcastically over the top as the droll Axel Hammond and Faith Coley Salie’s character of Tansy McGinnis is a bit shrill. After learning that the war hero is not all he is cracked up to be, the initial trio try their best throughout the rest of the play to oust the intruder with a variety of harebrained schemes.

The highlight of the production is French Stewart (of television’s “Third Rock from the Sun” fame) as Rick Steadman, the gawky, overbearing, clueless nerd who makes Cubbert’s life miserable. By the time he makes his first appearance, his refreshingly focused comic delivery style is a welcome relief from the expansive acting style of some of the other players. Stewart has real presence and although he portrays the ridiculous title character, he adds nuance and flair to his pesky character. He cannot carry the production alone, however, and it becomes a bit tiresome to watch the other actors try to reach the same extremes with less motivation. Stewart’s character was written to be broad and in his hands is fascinatingly weird, whereas the rest of the ensemble struggles to make the audience laugh with such antics as holding a bizarre dance ritual with grotesque hats in an attempt to scare off the unwanted houseguest.

The play is not without merit as the audience laughed heartily and seemed to enjoy the twists and turns of the comedy. However, the broad acting does not fit the normal comedic style the play presents so perhaps the script would be better served had the group decided to take it to an extreme and make it a true farce. Also the ‘unexpected’ revelation at the end (which you can see a mile coming) is not particularly believable. Still it is worth watching French Stewart at work as he is one of Los Angeles’ fun young talents. And it is always nice to visit the Colony’s relatively new and roomy space in beautiful downtown Burbank. Read more!

Cesar and Rubin

Cesar and Ruben, The Cesar Chavez Story
a kate west review
written and directed by Ed Begley, Jr.
El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood
call (818) 508-0281
Running March 14 through May 11, 2003

I recently had the distinct pleasure of attending Ed Begley Jr.'s directorial debut at the El Portal in trendy "No-Ho"( a delightfully artsy section of North Hollywood Ca) called, "CESAR AND RUBEN. This involiving musical is the story of Cesar Chavez, celebrated champion and founder of the United Farm Workers of America and Ruben Salazar, the legendary Los Angeles Times reporter, who chronicled Chavez’ fabled activism .Ed Begley states in the program notes that he knew Chavez personally and was even a pall bearer at his funeral so in my book he’s an excellent choice to execute this magical vision of Chavez’ life. And this production is no mere historical retelling of famous events - it is a musical inspired by Chavez himself, who dearly loved all kinds of music. Although I think original music may have helped to further along the plot even more, the existing score worked well in the context of the play. Begley chose appropriates pieces such as Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” Sting’s “Fragile” and Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero,” among others, to challenge his actors’ vocal abilities and to connect the audience of the present with the visionaries of the past.

We begin with Cesar (Roberto Alcaraz) and Ruben (Tony D’Arc) meeting in “heaven” in the form of a coffee-shop juke box-joint. Ruben is there to guide Cesar through his past, cleverly activating key moments by playing juke box numbers. By the way, the juke box thing only happens a few times in the beginning and then you really don’t see it anymore. It’s funny and it works but I could see growing tired of the joke. So with the help of Ruben and fascinating real-life images from Chavez’ life projected on the back wall (Special Effects by Stephan Szpak-Fleet), Cesar watches his life unfold: as a child migrating to the states, experiencing racial hatred early on, being hired as a laborer, meeting his wife and then after meeting Fred Ross (Charles Dennis), the organizer for the Community Service Organization, finally resolving to take matters in his own hands and officially becoming a union activist. In the course of aiding Cesar, Ruben finds himself reconciled to painful memories as well. The events are in turn, charming, entertaining and poignant, such as one humorous scene where Chavez’ numerous children are baptized. There are many gorgeous elaborate musical numbers set to a variety of American and Mexican “pop music” pieces. Kudos to Choreographer Roman Vasquez!

The actors are, for the most part, quite wonderful and, for those familiar with the real-life persons, many of them bear an amazing resemblance to the characters they portray. Shannon Stoeke, especially, does a wonderful, life-like impersonation of Bobby Kennedy. Roberto Alcaraz is a fresh, spirited, impassionate Cesar Chavez and Tony D’Arc is a personable, effective and doomed Ruben Salazar. Danielle Barbosa paints a vivid and passionate portrait of Dolores Huerta, Chavez’ longtime co-champion. The other women, Marta Dubois as Helen Chavez and Jeanine Pacheco as his young mother, are also strong. A special delight is Edward Laurence Albert (actor Eddie Albert’s son) as Naylor, the wickedly deceptive Ranch Boss, who torments Chavez throughout the play, singing and dancing his way into classic villain history.

CESAR AND RUBEN was overall a delight - a very involving, entertaining and a fairly accurate outline of the life of Cesar Chavez. I believe that this production is on its way to becoming a profound homage to a great man who changed the lives of the forgotten migrant workers. It only lacks a well-defined ending scene (and maybe some original music). Nonetheless, Ed Begley, Jr., with his political beliefs and passion about the environment is the perfect spokesperson, (please note that that all programs are printed on 100% recycled paper). Thank you, Ed. And yes, Si, se puede!

The Words of Cesar Chavez Read more!

Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with George
a kate west review
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by James Lapine
Director: Calvin Remsberg, Musical Director: Allen Everman II, Artistic Director: Les Hanson
West Coast Ensemble, 522 N. La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles (323) 525-0022
March 14 through May 4, 2003

Stephen Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical masterpiece, “Sunday in the Park with George” comes to vibrant life in the West Coast Ensemble’s delightful new production. Having seen their spectacular production of “Cabaret” a few years ago I was anticipating wonderful things. Most of my expectations were met from the clever set design (a blank white canvas eventually turned into a gorgeous work of art) and lovely costumes to the well-defined ensemble cast and outstanding directing by Calvin Remsberg.

The George in the title refers to French painter Georges Seurat (1859-1891), whose most famous piece, “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” is literally the set piece for this musical. Stef Tovar is a wonderfully sensitive and haunted George, depicting Seurat’s artistic obsession (in the brilliantly written songs “Color and Light” and “Finishing the Hat”) as the necessary element to achieve greatness, but causing him to fail at human relationships. He is at least partially redeemed in the second half, when his descendent and modern counterpart, also named George, becomes frustrated with the art world (“Putting It Together”) and with the help of his grandmother Marie (Dana Reynolds), realizes that it is family that holds people together.

Less strong is Dana Reynolds’ weary lover, Dot, who cannot hold on to Seurat, as she finally realizes in the songs “We Do Not Belong Together” and “Move On.” The rest of the cast performs well, most of them portraying characters from the painting in the first act as well as modern art aficionados in Act Two. Some standouts include Steven Connor’s Jules, a rival of Seurat and Jan Sheldrick as Seurat’s mother.

The two best moments in the musical occur when we see the fruition of Seurat’s hard work come to life as the actors actually become the famous painting and then start complaining about being stuck there (“Sunday” and “It’s Hot Up Here”). The other is the finale when the same characters return to serenade the modern George with another rendition of “Sunday,” defining the moment where family history and the nature of art come together. There are many such enchanting moments which completely absorb the audience into a magical musical Sondheim world. James Lapine’s story also superbly conveys the complexities of life vs. art.

This is not to say the production was completely flawless, however. Musical Director Allen Everman II needs to have a stern word with his brass section as they were often tentative and even slightly off-key. Aside from that, this production is as poignant, charming, sincere and well-executed as the original Broadway version. And as musicals are finally coming back into vogue, I recommend treating yourself to a good Sondheim musical.

Sunday in the Park with George (1984 Original Broadway Cast) Read more!

The Producers

The Producers, the new Mel Brooks Musical
a kate west review
at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles
Mel Brooks (Book, Composer, Lyricist, Producer), Thomas Meehan (Book),
Susan Stroman (Director, Choreographer)
Opens May 2, 2003
contact Los Angeles (213) 628-2772, Ticket Master (213) 365-3500

“The Producers,” now playing at the Pantages, is a Tony-award-winning, fun romp in the tradition of old-fashioned musical theater. As in the beloved movie version (also Mel Brooks), two desperate producers, Jason Alexander (of “Seinfeld” fame) as Max Bialystock and Martin Short (from “Saturday Night Live”) as Leo Bloom, connive old lady theater patrons into investing in a sure-fire bomb. The plan is to collect two million dollars, close the show in one day, keep the money and evade the IRS. What could go wrong? Plenty, it seems, as is fabulously depicted in this Broadway version of an old con.

Broadway veteran Jason Alexander is wonderfully adept as the crass, smooth-talking Max, who convinces his accountant Leo (the very silly Martin Short) to be more creative with the financial books and to help him mount a flop. They find a terrible playwright, an old German nazi-afficiando Franz Liebkind, played by the marvelously talented Fred Applegate and a truly awful director, Roger De Bris, (the outrageous Gary Beach) and together with some terrible music and actors they mount “Springtime for Hitler,” a musical showing Adolf Hitler’s “fun side,” guaranteed to offend anyone and everyone. However, everything soon goes horribly wrong or in this case right (“Where Did We Go Right?”), beginning with the musical becoming a smash hit and ending with the two hapless producers facing a long jail sentence and no way out. Along the way, they have many run-ins with over-the-top stereotypical characters such as neo-nazis, flamboyant theater people (“Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop,” “Keep It Gay”) and even little old ladies who tap-dance with walkers in an impressively mobile number.

There are a lot of big, beautiful Broadway spectacular numbers (“I Wanna Be A Producer,” “Springtime for Hitler”); there are a few inside jokes (Jason Alexander addresses the audience at one point, comparing himself to Nathan Lane in the New York production) and plenty of mindless dialogue to keep the audience laughing and enjoying themselves. Director/Choreographer Susan Stroman keeps the production fast-paced and trimmed and the costumes (William Ivey Long) and set design (Robin Wagner) are delicious. A slight, desperate, frantic air prevails throughout the production, which seems to be typical of Mel Brooks, however for the most part it’s harmless fun and a great idea for an adaptation. Those familiar with the movie version should especially relish it. For the rest of the world, the best way to enjoy this production is to fully embrace the one-dimensional characters and not look for the deeper meaning of life. Plus, it’s running for several months at the gorgeous Pantages Theater which always adds to the magic of a production.

The Producers (Movie-Only Edition) Read more!

Trailer Trash

“The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife”
a kate west review
written and directed by Del Shores
at the Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, call (323) 655-TKTS
March 2003 - Extended!

Some audiences may remember Del Shores recent campy and original film “Sordid Lives,” detailing the lives of trailer park southerners in all its kitschy sordidness. Shores recreates much of the same gently playful references to the foibles of the lower middle class in the recent theatrical hit “Trailer Trash Housewife” but with a much darker edge. Of special note is the musical score, a collaboration between Shores, Producer Sharyn Lane and Composer Joe Patrick Ward, who seamlessly incorporate a live blues singer* (acting as a contemporary Greek chorus), creating a haunting background to a troubled story.

Beth Grant (“Sordid Lives,” “Speed” and “The Rookie”) portrays Willadean, a verbally and physically abused woman with a seemingly hopelessly romantic view of marriage and happiness. Her husband J.D. (David Steen) is a typical insecure bully who keeps his wife oppressed to the point of being afraid of her own shadow. In an effort to hold on to sanity, Willadean fiercely and despairingly repeats her daily mantra, “I am not gonna shrivel up and die!” Grant’s achingly strong portrayal of this beaten woman stubbornly inching her way out of trailer trash park hell is one of the best in character progression. Encouraged by her nurturing friend and neighbor, LaSonia*, Willadean ultimately defies her torturer and embraces her own independence and female identity. The payoff for the audience at that point is worth the entire production. The rest of the cast handle the intense subject matter well - Dale Dickey is a special delight as the trampy waitress Rayleen, whose indiscretion is the catalyst for Willadean’s rebirth. Her sincere commitment to what might have been a stereotypical redneck character becomes magic in her skillful hands. She struts and quips happily as the doomed adulteress.

Ironically, David Steen, as the villain in the piece, does not come across as strong an actor as does the women, which may be due to the intimate nature of this particular theater. Granted, it is uncomfortable enough to witness the violence unfolding right at the audiences’ feet, but it would have been a little more powerful to see him open up full force to the dark side and allow the threat to be a little more menacing. One would think that the audience is mature enough to differentiate between the gentle actor and the horrible character. Nevertheless, he matches Grant’s professionalism solidly, effectively conveying righteous male rage as the classic abuser.

The play develops along a natural progression of human violence and pathos and the actors offer up so much real emotion that the audience is exhausted by the end, worrying and fretting over the fate of the women. Del Shores has written a simple and lovely play which provides intense drama and intends to awaken us to the plight of abused women. Hopefully, it will have the desired effect on at least one person deciding to take fate in her own hands and lead the better life she deserves. Recommended very highly.

* At the time of this review, understudies Pam Trotter and Angela Teele played the roles of LaSonia and the Blues Singer, respectively. Read more!

Star Wars Trilogy in 30 Minutes

Star Wars Trilogy in 30 Minutes
a kate west review
at the Coronet Theatre
366 N. La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles
contact www.SW30.com or (310) 657-7377
running October 25 - March 1

"Star Wars" is an iconic and legendary set of films emblazoned in our collective memories forever. But can we get the gist of all those pesky story lines in just half an hour? Director and Adaptor Patrick T. Gorman attempts to do just that in the hilarious "Star Wars Trilogy in 30 Minutes". With an earnest group of actors frantically jumping in and out of characters, the audience is treated to a fast-paced show, complete with crazy handmade props (R2D2 is a trash can!) and sound effects made by the actors themselves. And all in 30 minutes (time it yourself).

It's not a new concept (Tom Stoppard did the same thing with "Hamlet"), but always a crowd favorite and the more beloved the object of satire, the funnier it is. And this production succeeds beyond expectation. So catch it wherever/whenever you can and May the Force Be With You.


Star Wars Trilogy (Widescreen Edition with Bonus Disc) Read more!

An Evening with Jack Klugman

“An Evening with Jack Klugman”
a kate west review
created, written and performed by Jack Klugman
at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank, (818) 955-8101.

Jack Klugman is a wonderful story teller. He spends an entire evening describing his delightful theater and film career as well as some of his life’s troubles. Because of his throat surgery for cancer he speaks in a harsh whisper which grows into more of a growl as the evening progresses. At first this is disconcerting for the audience and you wonder how he will be able to talk a full two hours. He soon puts you at your ease however, as he is such a comfortable veteran of the stage and so very engaging. When he speaks of all the wonderful people he has worked with you feel as if you were right there with him.

Illustrious co-stars included Jack Lemmon, Walther Matthau, Lee J. Cobb, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Ethel Merman among others, and of course his neurotic roommate Felix Unger (Tony Randall) from the hit 1970’s television show “The Odd Couple.” His stories of Ethel Merman are especially moving, from his anxiety performing as a non-singer with her in the Broadway production of “Gypsy” to Merman’s gradual and sad demise at the end of her career. Each tale is succinctly yet tenderly told and is as genuine and interesting as Klugman himself. His epiphany about what doors were opened doing theater is inspiring and real.

During the second half of the evening, Klugman removes his toupee, dons a baggy sweater and answers questions from audience cue cards. The Moderator Rowan Joseph is a gentle presence, occasionally jogging Klugman’s memory of the past. All this and many clips and slides from his amazing theatrical-cinematic life and it is a splendid evening indeed, especially for those in the “biz.” But even if you’re not, you will enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and Klugman’s wit and wisdom. Read more!