Caulklon the Volton

“Caulklon the Volton”
a kate west review
written and performed by Ted Michaels, directed by Karen Maruyama
at the Groundlings Theatre, 7307 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, 90046
(323) 934-4747, Running April 5, 19, 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets $7

From the mind of Ted Michaels (a frightening place), who is yet another fabulously talented Groundling, comes an insanely original new one-act, “Caulklon the Volton,” performing in the house of comedic insanity: the Groundlings Theatre. The title refers to a space creature that appears to George W. Bush in a demented dream, threatening to enslave the population of the earth and keep them all in his stomach. The premise alone (almost) prepares you for the truly bizarre story about to unfold.

For those unfamiliar with past Groundlings main company shows, Michaels is known for his eccentrically intense characters such as a coal miner performing stand-up comedy and a Spaniard who rescues a depressed office worker from the doldrums of everyday life. In this production, he portrays a full range of characters, from the daydreaming current president George W., George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and past president F.D.R. to Batman, Robin and the amazing Caulklon the Volton himself. We never find out what a Volton is, but it sounds very scary and is present via George W.’s answering machine and speaker phone.

Groundlings Alumna Karen Maruyama’s fast-paced directing keeps up a spirited energy, matching Michaels’ manically enthusiastic method of jumping in and out of character. Greg Kanaga, Groundlings band member, joins in the fun with the occasional odd character as well as providing the music. This is a wonderfully unique performance which must be seen to be believed. It is great, wild fun and a very impressive insight into the type of talent the Groundlings nurture and revere. Highly, highly recommended. Read more!

The Pagans


“The Pagans”
a kate west review
written by Ann Noble, directed by Scott Cummins
at The Road Theatre Company, Lankershim Arts Center
5108 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood
(818) 761-8829,; running through April 24

Audiences usually relate quite well to good family drama as so many of us have experienced that type of conflict. The award-winning Road Theatre Company handles this discord nicely in their recent production of “The Pagans.”

Prodigal son Michael Riordan, now fallen from grace, finally returns to Ireland after five years in America. Shaun O’Hagan plays Michael with depth and dignity, while remaining the cornerstone around which the other characters revolve. It turns out that when he left Ireland, he also left behind the love of his life, Danaan (co-Producer Marci Hill) who, unbeknownst to him, has borne his son Connor. His brother Tadhg (played by the intensely sexy Erin Beaux) has been acting as a father figure to Connor in Michael’s absence.

Michael’s return results in many surprises, including bringing home his American wife Anna (uninterestingly portrayed by Lauren Clark). Alex Douglas is also rather weak as the family friend, Bobby Quinn. However, the rest of the cast is very strong, including James K. Ward as Thomas, the father and Peggy Billo as the fiercely bitter spinster, Aunt Frances. Artistic Director, Taylor Gilbert, plays Margaret, the mother of the Irish brood and does a fine job as the voice of reason as well as acting as the glue that hold the family together in the midst of tragedy. Her performance is subtle and multi-layered and she pulls off the perfect level of emotional intensity.

Playwright Ann Noble succinctly sets up the many conflicts in the first act which are all quickly resolved in the second act. The troubled Tadhg’s untimely end may seem a bit forced; however, Director Scott Cummins deftly motivates his actors to show a range of emotion in the logical unfolding of the tale. What may have been a predictable soap opera is converted into a gripping drama, by the strong directing, solid acting (for the most part), realistically accessible dialogue and vividly sympathetic characters. Set Designer Desma Murphy also presents a detailed and cozy set creating a wonderfully apt setting and atmosphere for this touching story.

This moving play keenly resonates with the audience as we watch each character undergo a dramatic transformation, enabling them to be a stronger family on the road to self-discovery. “The Pagans” is a sold production with a nice emotional payoff and the Road Theatre Company well deserves its critically acclaimed reputation.

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The Underpants

“The Underpants”
a kate west review
by Carl Sternheim, adapted by Steve Martin
directed by John Rando
The Geffen Playhouse

10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles 90024
March 9 –
April 18, 2004 – EXTENDED
Call (310) 208-5454

Hollywood’s own Steve Martin, having written and performed his uniquely zany style of comedy for decades, has recently turned to playwriting. The Geffen Playhouse’s first original production was Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” and both theater and writer have come full circle in their latest production, “The Underpants.”

Influenced by German expressionism and adapted from (bitterly anti-bourgeois) Carl Sternheim’s “Die Hose” (“The Knickers”) of 1910, “The Underpants” is a broad, stylistic, comic romp reminiscent of the classic French comedies by Moliere. The play stars Dan Castellaneta (best known as the voice of America’s favorite cartoon dad, Homer Simpson) and Meredith Patterson as a quintessential ordinary middle class 1900’s German couple, Theo and Louise Maske. Theo is furious at his wife Louise for accidentally dropping her underpants in a public park, in front of the eyes of His Royal Majesty, the King and all of society. The direct result of this intolerable scandal is a parade of lustful young men, seeking to board with the Maske’s and smitten by their stolen glimpse of Louise’s drawers. Jack Betts and Steve Vinovich have smaller roles as other German caricatures.

Anthony Crivello plays the magnificently exaggerated Italian version of Casanova, the flamboyant Versati. He excites Louise into fantasizing about romance in her humdrum, oppressive existence. Egged on by her vicariously hungry and ever-optimistic neighbor, Gertrude (deliciously played by the delightful Amy Aquino), Louise plots an affair with Versati as revenge against her boorish, demanding and unpleasant husband. As Theo, Dan Castellaneta plays the part overly loudly in the style of the piece, but a little grating nonetheless.

Also, the constant double entendre references to melons, wieners, cigars and cherries do get a bit old. Patrick Kerr plays another suitor, Cohen, the Jewish dentist, who, by hiding his religion, provides much fodder for the buffoonishly anti-Semitic Theo. The entire production is larger than life and over-the-top, including the fascinating surreally clownish set by Alexander Dodge. The award-winning director John Rando (for Broadway’s acclaimed hit, “Urine Town”), pulls together a professional production, however the blatant humor is an acquired taste.

Obviously poking fun at social convention, the audience must still suffer through bad puns and outright slapstick routines. Martin’s influence is apparent in much of the sexual humor and will appeal to the common denominator. The contemporary relevance lies in the ridiculous furor over a minor social faux pas and how that affects everyone’s lives, bringing a little glamour and fleeting fame to Louise and then just as quickly leaving her again to her domestic fate. Running about one and a half hours long, with no intermission, the frantic pace is dizzying at times and the base humor is not for everyone. In general, however, the production is definitely an audience pleaser and has drawn sell-out houses.

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Dirty Blonde

“Dirty Blonde” by Claudia Shear
a kate west review
directed by James Lapine
at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena 91101
call (626) 356-PLAY (7529); running February 27 – April 4, 2004

Mae West was a fabulous, outspoken, sexy diva of vaudeville and early film who fascinated, titillated and shocked audiences of her day. Claudia Shear portrays West as fun and big and bawdy as she ever was in the recent production of “Dirty Blonde.” As the award-winning author and co-creator, Shear has played West in many different venues, including on Broadway. She collaborates once again with the mega-talented and brilliant James Lapine (also co-creator) who directs this produciton in his usual economical and remarkably savvy fashion.

The story revolves around West’s rise to stardom, chronicled by two modern lonely Mae West fans who discover each other because of their mutual obsession. Claudia Shear (as West and the lonely Josephine), Tom Riis Farrell (as her lover and various other characters) and Bob Stillman (various characters) make up the cast. They work very well as a team, transforming into different characters in different eras with professional simplicity. Bob Stillman also acts as Musical Director, creating a wonderful score in keeping with the vaudeville style of the production and each number is more entertaining than the next.
Casual fans my be surprised to learn that part of Mae West’s amazing life story is writing her own material, discovering Cary Grant and having the balls to live her life exactly the way she chose. Shear paints a vibrant and powerful picture of West, touched by sadness only toward the end of her life.

The show runs a bit long at about two hours and could do with an intermission. There seem to be several opportunities for a good break. In spite of this, the audience leaves the show wanting more and with the desire to go watch West’s more well-known films such as “Diamond ‘Lil” and “My Little Chickadee.” Spectators can visit the Playhouse’s current charming exhibit of her memorabilia after the show. This nicely highlights a delightful production which is loads of fun. Read more!


“39*21*50” by Max Riley
a kate west review
directed by Mario Lescot
at The Theatre District at the Cast Theatre, 804 El Centro, Hollywood, (323) 957-2343
Running February 13 – April 3, 2004

Local playwright Max Riley’s latest one-act, “39*21*50,” developed at the Theatre District is now a full length play. The title refers to the various stages the characters go through in life, which they discuss endlessly in a local coffee shop on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. The set design is by Two Blue Chairs and is a wonderfully natural depiction of a cozy, messy Melrose café, with muted strung lights and newspapers strewn about. It establishes the mood perfectly as the characters are introduced.

First we meet Suzie (Suzie Kane) and Nancy (Nancy Peterson), two middle-aged friends who lunch at the same Melrose café every day and never get served. It is their favorite hangout, however, where they feel the most comfortable. The running joke is that the wraithlike waitress (Randi Haynes) never brings actual food and never does any actual work, but is a good pal. Next their divorced friend Karen (Karen Mangano) comes in, soon followed by the frantic businesswoman Trish (Alice Ensor) who quickly becomes a regular customer, along with her ever-patient assistant Ellen (Shannon Hunt).

A special find is Drew Droege, who plays Drew, the only male friend in the bunch, who imparts both wisdom and serenity as only a local yogi teacher can. He plays his part joyfully and with a refreshing immediacy and realism. In fact, it seems that the younger characters, Drew, Ellen and even the waitress, in spite of their own problems, are there to teach the older women how to cope gracefully with life’s little quirks.

Throughout the play, the women sort out their various problems while drifting in and out of the café. Businesswoman Trish learns to slow down and appreciate the small pleasures in life, even reclaiming her Brooklyn accent. She finally notices and appreciates her assistant Ellen who very sweetly reveals her inner life. Karen reconciles with her bad husband, while Suzy and Nancy strengthen their already strong friendship. Drew wanders between both sets of women, as some sort of symbolic touchstone.

The actors give more or less strong performances; however, all the heartfelt emotion comes across a bit forced, with overwritten dialogue and incongruous monologues. For instance, Drew compares not living a full life to a cheap version of an Armani suit where “the collar rides up.” The mundane point of stopping to smell the roses might have been made with less tedious writing. Also director Mario Lescot has the actors amble off occasionally for spotlight monologues which do not provide anything specifically revealing. All in all, the play is a tad slow and may leave the audience a tad bored. Read more!

The Velvet Hammer Burlesque

The Velvet Hammer Burlesque presents “Illuminata”
a night of rhapsody & abandon
a kate west review
created, produced & directed by Michelle Carr
at The Avalon Theater

1739 N. Vine Street, Hollywood, (323) 466-0270
and The
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco
California in April
Contact for upcoming tour information!!!

Straight from the glamour and glitz of the 1930’s and 40’s cabaret-style floor shows comes the outrageously (and naked!) modern version by the Velvet Hammer Burlesque. Their latest effort is “Illuminata,” is a three-hour-full extravaganza of scrumptiously and scandalously costumed
Hollywood allure and style.

The brainchild of Michelle Carr, the show features comics Bill Chott, Laura Kightlinger, Jeremy Kramer, Blaine Capatch and Dave Cox, with varied levels of comedic talent. Mr. Uncertain is a middling retro piano player who can also be seen at Hollywood’s Parlour Club. Lord Millionaire and his Arhythmacrats bring the house down with their rousting band and the delightful Velvet Hammer chorus girls come on between acts to dance their way into creating a retro fan’s heaven.

Miss Astrid, the one-eyed German dominatrix is the Mistress of Ceremonies, sparring raunchily with the audience between numbers. She does need to pick up the pace as her sexual innuendos tend to drag on. As each act is brand new, there are no real costume changes so her stalling technique is a bit perplexing.

But then of course, there are the strippers, each girl act more spectacular than the next. The many fantastic numbers include Dorothy Gale being accosted by flying monkeys, two flamenco dancers stripping each other, a sex robot being created and there are many ball gowns and designer dresses which all come off slowly and in other cases furiously, inspiring wolf whistles from the audience. This is a show that is even better the more you drink, and at the Avalon Theater, there is ample opportunity.

With names like Scarlette Fever, Aurora Borealis and Venus de Mille you could not ask for better entertainment. There is even a vivaciously sexy little person in the show named Bobby Pinz as well as twin maids called the Poubelle Twins. Very exciting and well worth the steep price of $30. So take a trip back to ludicrous vaudeville and bawdy burlesque and enjoy yourself!

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