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!