Powerpuff Girls

a kate west reflection

The Powerpuff Girls are three super hero little girls made of sugar, spice, everything nice and an accidental dose of Chemical X, a mysterious component from Professor Utonium's laboratory. Blossom (fearless, smart leader), Buttercup (feisty, dark-haired favorite, guess why?) and Bubbles (silly, blonde, fun one) are Townsville's trio of saviors. The Professor just wanted companionship, but got more than he bargained for not only with three adorable daughters, but a daily method of saving the world too. Super powers often conflict with school, super villains like Mojo Jojo often conflict with bedtime and the incompetent Mayor Mayer keeps getting everyone into trouble.

A good role model for little girls everywhere, check out the Cartoon Network for your local listings now.

Checking Them Out:
The Powerpuff Girls - The Complete First Season

The Powerpuff Girls - The Movie Read more!


Frida Kahlo
a kate west review

written & directed by Rubén Amavizca Murúa
with the Grupo de Teatro Sinergia
at the Teatro Frida Kahlo Theater
2332 W. Fourth Street, L.A. 90057
contact (213) 382-8133 or www.fridakahlotheater.org
running December 2005

The colorful and boisterous love affair between famous Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera is captured yearly in the Frida Kahlo Theater/Grupo de Teatro Sinergia’s production of “Frida Kahlo”. In keeping with the fascinating culture of the piece, you can choose between either the English or Spanish version; the actors memorize both scripts. The theater itself gives a nice first impression when one walks in, with a painted sunny floor, happy blue walls and Mexican style décor. The fabulous folkloric costumes and jewelry will catch your eye also, all contributing to a vibrant glimpse into a surreal artistic world.

The play is inspired by an essay by Elena Poniatowska, various letters and documents from Kahlo’s life and from Martha Zamora’s book “Frida Kahlo; The Brush of Anguish”. In a short two hours, you are briefly immersed in Frida’s tumultuous life. She lived in pain, both psychically and emotionally. As a child, she contracted polio and as a young adult was in a terrible bus accident which freakishly impaled her on a pole. As a result, she was plagued with spinal operations for the rest of her life. She also met Diego Rivera. As she says in the play, “there were two great accidents in my life: the bus accident and meeting Diego.” And what a wild ride it was.

The intense Minerva Garcia plays Frida, often deep in monologues, with herself, the audience and a puzzling little character called Judas (Edwin Rivera Corcios). There is a Mexican tradition where the people burn straw effigies of a Judas character and as Frida loved dolls, this character comes to life as her artistic consciousness, signifying death a little too. Corcios plays him too effeminately, coming across a bit grating in the first act, though he tones it down in the second. The story would be just fine without this device.

Other than that bizarre touch, the story is fairly straightforward. Frida meets Diego, they fall madly for each other and Diego spends the rest of Frida’s life cheating on her and making her miserable. He almost can’t help it though as he is a grotesque (although immensely talented) man boy and Richard Azurdia plays him with all the necessary extravagant magnificence. Garcia coos over him as Frida, calling him her “baby toad” but the final straw comes when he sleeps with her sister Cristina (Renée Durón). That he also has the gall to introduce her to his many lovers, including a glamorous actress named Paula Goldberg (Cristina Frías), illustrates the ridiculous lengths they will go to eviscerate each other. However, all the pain in her life most likely made Frida the extraordinary artist that she was. If her life had been easier, had she not had both great pain and great love, would her work have been as open and as raw?

The two main characters are wonderfully well versed, matching each other’s passion very well, and the supporting actors are fine. Director Rubén Amavizca Murúa keeps a good pace, with seamlessly blended scene transitions and well-balanced emotions. It is the merest glimpse into a complex life, but you’ll find it’s a fulfilling night out. The audience this particular night sure loved it. Be sure to get precise directions, though, as the theater is a bit hard to find.

Direct from the source:
The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait
Read more!

Joni and Gina's Wedding

Joni and Gina’s Wedding
a kate west review
created by Marianne Basford & Ann Lippert; directed by Ann Lippert & David Pavao
at El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd. L.A. 90029; http://www.elcidla.com/index.htm
contact http://www.joniandginaswedding.com/; (323) 769-KISS (5477)
tix* $30 (includes dinner, champagne & cake)
running through December 2005 and may be extended 2006!

In the spirit of the semi-pretend-reality live show “Tony and Tina’s Wedding,” “Joni and Gina’s Wedding” is a lesbian version of its Italian-style predecessor. Patrons are the wedding guests who mingle with Hollywood actors posing as members of an eclectic wedding party.

You are escorted onto the cozy patio at El Cid, a trendy Spanish restaurant in trendy Silver Lake. There you can drink to your heart’s content at the full bar while you wait for the festivities to begin. Some cast members may venture out to greet you, including the Caterer Funqueesha (Brandi Hawkins) with a few appetizers for you, and MadDog (Jane Wolfe). By the time you’ve had a few cocktails in you, you’re introduced to the madcap members of the wedding party, by Rychard, honorary male maid of honor (Alex Garner) and you’re escorted into the banquet room for the marriage ceremony.

Ministress Pat Miass (S. Rachel Lovey) performs the “almost holy matrimony” for Joni and Gina (Lowe Taylor and Jessica Hopper). Interspersed throughout are wholly inappropriate comments by the pretend family members, which of course contribute to the hilarity of the proceedings. After the atypical ceremony, you’ll be escorted out onto the patio for more drinking and then the reception begins, along with the real fun. Dinner includes chicken, rice, salad and a champagne toast. And what a lot of toasts there are. The Best Woman, Maureen (Allie Rivenbark), bitterly remarks on her lost love, Gina, trying to goad Jodi into a catfight. Both sets of parents and siblings make speeches, the stereotypes continue and the sparks fly.

Bruce Cronander, in this performance, is General Armstrong, Gina’s waspish father and plays the stodgy, horrified military man rather well. Gina’s roguish brother Joe (Chris Burton) makes some off-hand boorish remarks and Charisse Savarin, Gina’s mother Margaret, plays an alcoholic somnambulist with no idea where she is. Feuding Jewish ex-spouses, Larry (Tom F. Evans) and Ida (Rebecca Michaels) embarrass their daughter Joni by squabbling endlessly. Joni’s sister perpetuates the Jewish stereotype as Rivkah (Kim Anton), an orthodox, mousy Jewish scholar. Larry’s current girlfriend Wamsetta (Tonya Harris) outplays Alex Garner’s Man of Honor Rychard’s queeny outrage with saucy Puerto Rican fire.

We expect and applaud these stereotypes which would might not work in a normal play but fit in great with a wedding. Because the audience feels a part of the show and have had ample time to drink, we delight in being at a wild party. Making it all worthwhile are Lowe Taylor and Jessica Hopper as Joni and Gina - both very charming and interesting. Joni is the more butch of the two, contrasting Gina’s slightly more demure side. We forget they are an unusual couple by mainstream standards and we root for them wholeheartedly. By the time we are served cake, danced in a conga line and learned to line dance, we are completely won over. Word of advice: don’t go if you don’t want to party. The actors will ask you to dance and none of them are shy, giving new meaning to the words audience participatory. From beginning to end, when the girls run off to their honeymoon, you are swept into this crazy world. Also try sitting near the walls for the best view and make sure you drink – a lot. It’s the best wedding in town if you want to go with the flow. It’s time to let your hair down and catch that bouquet.

*Partial proceeds from all shows goes to the Equality Campaign, the group that helps to fight against constitutional amendments that discriminate against same sex marriage. Read more!


a kate west review
by Peter Shaffer; directed by Tim Dang
at the East West Players, 120 North Judge John Aiso Street, LA 90012
running October - December, 2005; tix $30-$35 regular performances
contact (213) 625-7000 or http://www.eastwestplayers.org/

George Takei, best known as Sulu in the celebrated original "Star Trek" series, takes a different turn as psychiatrist Martin Dysart in the East West Players new production of "Equus". A complex and demanding role, Dysart carries the play, acting as both narrator and protagonist but Takei does not quite pull it off.

The story involves a young boy, Alan Strang (Trieu D. Tran), brought to the doctor's attention after blinding six horses with a steel spike. Intrigued, Dysart agrees to take the case. In the course of his analysis, Dysart uncovers deep emotion and passion in an apparently painfully shy and odd little boy. Colleague Hesther Salomon (Jeanne Sakata) pleads for Dysart to end the boy's pain, Alan's parents Frank and Dora (Alberto Isaac and Dian Kobayashi) are bewildered by their son and Alan himself is at times defiant and at other times pathetically dependent on Dysart. The most surprising revelation of all comes from Dysart realizing that Alan's secret midnight rides on the horses make him more alive and real than the Greek gods Dysart so emulates in the pages of his dusty old books. In the end, Dysart cannot find blame in Alan's average, slightly ineffectual parents or in society and his great conflict comes in knowing that if he actually "cures" the boy, he will also be killing his originality. His own life will seem bleak in comparison, either way.

Director Tim Dang honors playwright Peter Shaffer's original staging with a minimalist stage, an arena roped platform, surrounded by benches for the actors. All the actors remain on stage throughout the play and the horses are symbolically portrayed by actors with metal horse heads stamping about on spring horseshoes. Not only does this convey confinement, but also the idea that the protagonists are under constant vigilance, perhaps even judgment. Also, since Alan is recounting past events, the psychological aspects take on a dreamlike quality. Set Designer Maiko Nezu, Costume Designer Annalisa Adams and Lighting Designer Rand Ryan also aid greatly in providing a perfect clinical atmosphere. All this is not quite enough to instill passion in his actors, however.

George Takei, as Dysart, has a nice, theatrically trained voice, but somehow does not fully encompass a fully rounded character. Tieu D. Tran, as Alan has some nice moments and is quite moving in the climactic scene with love interest Jill Mason (Cheryl Tsai). The actors are all fine, although some of them inexplicably go in and out of British accents. It is a fine production in general, yet does not have the emotional impact the original production must have generated back in 1970's London. Peter Shaffer's brilliant writing makes for a fascinating play, regardless, and as an added bonus, this production will be deeply satisfying to any theatergoers who also happen to be Trekkies. Read more!


Absolutely Fabulous
a kate west favorite

Jennifer Saunders, (of "French and Saunders" with Dawn French), and Joanna Lumley are Edina and Patsy, the ever-wasted exotically stylish duo of the British sit-com "Absolutely Fabulous". Hilariously wicked, these two saunter through life, wreaking havoc among friends and neighbors, especially with Eddie's perpetually mortified daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha). Swigging vodka and chain smoking their little hearts out, no topic is too PC.

We love them for their extremely outrageous behavior and Director Bob Spiers gives them ample creativity. Saunders' cohort in comedic crime, Dawn French, also has a creative hand in the writing, all of which is fantastically brilliant, as the Brits like to say. Jane Horrocks as the bewildered and baffled personal assistant Bubbles is as zany and talented as all the rest.

The precursor to New York's "Sex and the City", this is the show where the ladies really let it all hang out. So don't be afraid, tune in, and learn how to be absolutely fabulous.

Created by
Jennifer Saunders


Jennifer Saunders
Joanna Lumley
Julia Sawalha
June Whitfield
Jane Horrocks

Opening theme
"This Wheel's on Fire" by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko

Catching Up:
Absolutely Fabulous - Complete Series 1-3

MORE Magazine: www.more.com Read more!


a kate west review
written by Joanna Murray-Smith & directed by Andrew J. Robinson
at the Matrix Theatre Company,
7657 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA
running Thursdays – Sundays, August 26 –
November 6, 2005; tix $20-25
contact (323) 852-1445 or www.matrixtheatre.com; thematrixtheatre@sbcglobal.net

Marriage is tough. Especially after 32 years. No one knows that better than Honour (Susan Sullivan), whose husband abruptly leaves her, with no obvious warning (externally anyway), in the emotionally wrenching “Honour”, now playing at the Matrix Theatre Company. Robert Foxworth is Gus (alternating with Granville Van Dusen), a published author and intellectual, who decides to change his life completely after an interview with a beautiful, young aspiring writer, Claudia (Kirsten Potter). Like many men, he suffers a mid-life crisis, believing that if he exchanges one woman for another (and a younger model at that) he will find youth again. He tells himself that he is being true to his best self, and that it was a long time coming, but he is really childishly attempting to see himself more clearly through another’s eyes (something he accuses his wife of doing). “There were signs” he tells Honour, in order to justify his betrayal, and it is just unfortunate that she did not see them before as he does not responsible for any further explanation. And that’s that.

Honour bears the brunt of the news with restrained stoicism, coupled with the occasional heartbroken outburst. Her strong sense of duty caused her to remain loyal to her husband throughout all those years, perhaps sacrificing her own deepest potential. She too is a published writer, although her husband’s work always took precedence. Surprisingly, both her daughter Sophie (Becky Wahlstrom) and the “other woman”, Claudia, chide her for losing herself in her marriage. They both want to idolize her but are frustrated by her apparent lack of identity.

Director Andrew J. Robinson skillfully leads his actors to the strong performances that speak to our own private heartaches. Susan Sullivan is wonderful as the wounded Honour, who may seem a victim but who is ultimately true to her own convictions. Robert Foxworth is chilling as the unfeeling husband who seeks passion in another woman. He consumes the energy of everyone around him and then discards them when they are used up. His admiration for Claudia (played fiercely by Kirsten Potter) as a seemingly independent intellectual equal is misguided as neither of them truly understands what love really is. And what will happen when he tires of her as well? Becky Wahlstrom is also convincing as the confused, lost Sophie, caught between exasperation at her mother and resentment toward her father. Everyone aspires to happiness but do not always know how to achieve it.

In expressing this angst, playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s dialogue reflects that of a writer’s family and not the way in which most of us would normally speak. Love is poetic, however, so this style works for the piece, enhancing the nobility of the messages of sacrifice and commitment. The main theme of the play is the question of honor – which is more honorable, remaining loyal to duty and giving yourself over to the inevitable compromises of love or making yourself your first priority? All of the characters struggle with this dilemma and in the end, Honour appears the strongest. Not only does she end up with the clearest sense of self but also the ability to survive, in spite of initially resisting change in her established world. She did not choose to live alone, but she may just triumph over all, fully living up to her name. Emotionally draining, the play encompasses sorrow and disillusionment and above all, the difficulties of human relationships. And thus we recognize the truth in ourselves and the inevitability of the anguish of love.

Read more!

Dead End

Dead End
a kate west review
written by Sidney Kingsley; directed by Nicholas Martin
at the Ahmanson Theatre,
135 North Grand Ave, Los Angeles 90012
running August 28 – October 16, 2005; ($20 Hot Tix available)
contact box office at (213) 628-2772 or www.taperahmanson.com

Sidney Kingsley’s dramatic play “Dead End” shocked Broadway audiences in 1935 with its depiction of slum living and coarse street lingo. Audiences may also remember the Oscar-nominated 1937 Humphrey Bogart movie directed by William Wyler. Now Michael Ritchie makes his spectacular debut, as the Center Theatre Group’s new Artistic Director, with an even bigger splash in a slick 2005 modern version for the Ahmanson Theatre.

With 42 actors (including a great supporting cast) and an orchestra pit filled with 10,000 gallons of water, New York’s 1930’s East River front is stylishly recreated. Scruffy neighborhood boys joyfully jump off the dock into the water, splashing any audience member daring to sit in the front row. James Noone’s amazing set is the first thing that takes your breath away as the curtain rises. A wooden dock, the edge of the East River, brown slum buildings next to posh avenue apartments all blend to create a world of feuding classes. Costume Designer Michael Krass also does wonderful work with authentic period pieces and Director Nicholas Martin seamlessly weaves the upper and lower classes together, doing justice to Kingsley’s strong story.

The real life-inspired Dead End kids, made infamous back in the play’s first incarnation, start off the show with rabble-rousing hijinks. Milty (Josh Sussman), the newest and most Jewish kid on the block is tormented by the ragamuffin gang prowling the waterfront. Tommy (Ricky Ullman) is their leader, who eventually accepts Milty but still raises hell whenever possible. His sister Drina (Kathryn Hahn) tries to keep an eye on him but can’t be everywhere at once. Philip Griswald (Benjamin Platt) is also drawn into the fray, although he can never really be of their world, as he is of the privileged variety, jeering at them from high up in a penthouse luxury balcony. They wallop him good, however, when is he caught unawares in the street. This sets off a chain of events which eventually leads to Phillip’s irate father (Charley Lang) demanding that Tommy be hauled off to juvenile prison, in spite of his sister’s pleas. Displaying a rough street-smart charm, one dead end kid is more captivating than the next and all (Trevor Peterson with his tragic cough as “T.B.”, Ricky Ullman, Greg Roman as “Dippy”, Adam Rose as “Angel” and Sam Murphy as the Judas-like “Spit”) have their own appeal.

Baby-Face Martin (“Six Feet Under’s” smoldering Jeremy Sisto) returns to the old neighborhood as living testament of a boy gone wrong (he’s the Humphrey Bogart role in the film). He also started in reform school, the lesson being that it’s small wonder he became a notorious gangster who will soon receive his comeuppance. His old pal Gimpty (the likeable Tom Everett Scott) reluctantly turns him in. Martin’s mother (Joyce Van Patten) gets applause in a heartbreaking reunion scene between killer son and devastated mother when both realize there is no going home. Gimpty too, finally realizes he doesn’t belong in either world, having come from the slums, but having higher aspirations, and is thus spurned by posh girl Kay (Sarah Hudnut). The stark contrast between rich and poor is eloquently portrayed and we are left with a sense of sorrow at the inevitability of fate. Some of the language may seem a bit dated, but it still aptly conveys the message that apparently the problems of the 30’s are still prevalent today. Timely, but unfortunate.

See the Bogie movie:
Dead End

Read more!


Wicked - the Los Angeles Tour
a kate west review
music & lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Winnie Holzman
directed by Joe Mantelloat the Pantages Theater, 6801 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90028 running Summer 2005 in Los Angeles & touring nationwide
contact (323) 462-6898 or http://www.wickedthemusicaltour.com/cities/la.htm

[Warning - plot spoiler may be included!]

Direct from New York's Broadway, the Tony award winning mega-hit musical "Wicked", now at the Pantages in Hollywood, is as spectacularly satisfying on tour as it is in the Big Apple. Based on Gregory Maguire's innovative novel of the same name, the story centers on the behind-the-scenes story of the Wicked Witch of the West of "The Wizard of Oz" fame (also check out the L. Frank Baum books and the MGM film).

The witch herself, Elphaba (Stephanie J. Block), has the odds stacked against her from an early age. She was born green, first of all, assuring her status as an outcast. And it all seems to go downhill from there. Yet in spite of her hardships, she manages to find her inner power and exceed her own expectations. Along the way, she encounters many people to help her achieve this. First, her instructor at Shiz University, Doctor Dillamond (Timothy Britten Parker), and then Galinda (Kendra Kassebaum), who later becomes Glinda, the Good Witch. Handsome Fiyero (Derrick Williams) is her dashing love interest in contrast to the many friends who inevitably turn into enemies - like the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (David Garrison), Madame Morrible (Carol Kane) and even the seemingly innocuous Munchkin Boq (Logan Lipton).

Glinda sets up the entire tale for us as a flashback at the top of the show. Kendra Kassebaum gives a delightful performance as the effervescent and irrepressible ditzy-blonde "good" girl and does some darn good scene stealing to boot. We will soon discover that the wicked and the good are sometimes not so easy to define. Elphaba and her sister Nessarose (Jenna Leigh Green) are sent to school after their mother dies. Nessarose is in a wheelchair and Elphaba is well, green, so they are definitely the resident oddballs. Glinda is the queen of the ball and the favorite of all the students, but not the instructors. Of course she and Elphaba go from hating each other ("What is this Feeling?") to being the best of friends. Their friendship makes them stronger and they are irreparably changed for having known each other ("For Good").

Stage and television veteran Carol Kane is the chirpy Madame Morrible at Shiz University who first glimpses the possibilities of Elphaba's awesome power. Her initial dismissal of Glinda's power ultimately becomes her undoing. Elphaba eventually becomes disillusioned with the school when Doctor Dillamond is dismissed for being a goat. It seems that talking animals will no longer be tolerated in Oz.

After visiting her hero, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and feeling betrayed by him as well, Elphaba strikes out on her own in what is usually the most spectacular number of the entire show - "Defying Gravity". Stephanie J. Block is wonderful and amazing as Elphaba, conveying a sincere depth of emotion, in spite of this particular night's faux pas (her harness didn't work and she was not able to fly). All the musical numbers are fantastic, especially the crowd-pleasing "Popular" with Glinda and Elphaba, "One Short Day" where a green-clad chorus regales us with the magic of the Emerald City, and "No One Mourns the Wicked," another captivating chorus number. The entire cast is strong and stands up quite favorably in comparison with the original Broadway cast.

And yes, Dorothy Gale of Kansas is referenced (again, see the movie or read the books) but we never actually see her. However, her house still falls on top of Nessarose in a twister and she does steal her magic shoes and Elphaba does get splashed with water and dies (or does she?) We also learn the origins of the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion in a "Star Wars III; Revenge of the Sith" type of revelation (from the famous George Lucas film sagas). Oz die-hards will love all the clever "inside jokes". And for those of you who have read the oddly original novel "Wicked", you'll find that this version is much more satisfying, especially when accompanied with memorable tunes and terrific production values.

Director Joe Mantello is to be commended for his fine directing, Susan Hilferty for the richly fantastical costumes and Eugene Lee for the stage settings, like the great silver dragon overlooking the top of the stage. The entire production crew is Broadway-professional and phenomenal (except for that one time poor Elphaba didn't get to fly). Balancing between darkness and light, such as the dirty world of politics, the dangers of intolerance and the freedom of realizing your own potential and fulfilling your own dreams, it's a heck of a fun show and well worth every penny. You won't want it to end. You might not know who you like better - Elphaba or Glinda (two very sexy sorceresses, by the way) - but you'll sure never look a witch the same way again. And hopefully not be too quick to judge wickedness. Be sure to catch it soon in a city near you, as it's the hottest ticket in town and selling out fast.

Read the story first:
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Then enjoy the Broadway score:
Wicked (2003 Original Broadway Cast) Read more!


a kate west review
written by Martin Sherman; directed by Claudia Jaffee
at the Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA
running Fridays - Sundays; July 14 - August 21, 2005
contact (323) 960-7740 or www.plays411.com/bent

The basic premise of Martin Sherman's play "Bent" is about tolerance. In a modern age where we still experience much intolerance this should be a blessed relief, but unfortunately, the play falls a bit short, emotionally.

Gay playboy Max (John Marzilli) and the shy dancer Rudy (Jon Cohn) are living as lovers, just as the Nazis take over in 1930's Germany. Homosexuality, always socially controversial, is especially taboo in the Third Reich. Nevertheless, pragmatic Max lives it up, while still understanding what's going on in the periphery, but Rudy lives in denial. Confronted by the present at last, in the form of a stranger, Wolfe (Michael Bronte), that they pick up in a bar one night, their world comes crashing down around them when Wolfe is taken by the Gestapo. Forced to flee themselves, Max and Rudy soon become fugitives.

John Marzilli does all right as Max, though he sometimes comes across too gruff and Jon Cohn is a bit too presentational. (To be fair, however, Cohn's delicate flower character is not the most well rounded to begin with and Marzilli does not always have enough dimension to work with either.) Also, the supporting characters, like Greta (Geoffrey Dwyer) and the Nazi Captain (Paul Vroom) are not real standouts.

The Nazis eventually catch up to Max and Rudy and en route to Dachau, Max makes a horrible decision in order to survive. He also meets Horst (Josh Gordon) who becomes his survival guide and in spite of the circumstances, in spite of the horror and their initial reluctance, Max and Horst fall in love. Constantly under surveillance by evil Nazi guards, they develop a way of communicating so that no one will suspect them. Their first point of contention, the fact that Max pretends to be Jewish, preferring the yellow star to the pink triangle that Horst wears, eventually fades to the background as they begin to understand each other. Max has always been in denial about real love (much like Rudy was in denial about the outside world) and was never very good at getting in touch with his feelings. With Horst, however, he becomes his best self. Josh Gordon is highly sympathetic as Horst and of all the cast best expresses the subtlety and diversity of emotion.

Yet in spite of Gordon's excellent performance, the production lacks real heart. Director Claudia Jaffee makes the best of it, but we are left feeling a bit too removed. Max and Horst try to create something beautiful in the middle of all the ugliness, but even with some strongly tragic scenes, we should care more than we do. While there is good historical content, there is not a well-realized and emotionally satisfying ending. Still, half the audience seemed wrapped up in the story so it could go either way. Note: this is not a play for children, so leave them at home. And aside from the strong content (violence and sexuality), there is also brief nudity and some gunshot sounds. Read more!

Get Mortified

a kate west review
created by David Nadelberg
Running in Los Angeles: Wednesday, July 21 at 8 p.m. at the M Bar, 1253 (corner of Vine/Fountain), $5, for tix call (323) 856-0036
Running in New York: June 17 & 19 at 8 p.m.
at the Magnet Theater, 254 W. 29th Street, NYC 10001
for $10 tix call (212) 244-8824; www.getmortified.com

David Nadelberg, writer/producer/angstologist, has come up with the perfect idea for the perfectly simple show. Humiliate your actors by having them read their teenage and childhood diary excerpts in public. Performing bicoastally and on “This American Life”, NPR’s popular homespun radio show, “Mortified” is as entertaining as it is clever.

The latest show playing in Los Angeles features Johanna Stein, Melissa Wolfe, Angela Pupello, Christopher Wood, Sascha Rothchild, Krista and Keleigh Lanphear, Chris Farah, Will Seymour and Mark Phinney. Ranging from the Lanphear sisters’ ludicrously heartfelt original song about the Challenger tragedy, to Will Seymour’s casual passing reference to living next door to “Aunt” Liza Minnelli, the show presents adolescent angst and absurdity quite well. Melissa Wolfe’s vehement attack on her childhood teacher is uproarious as well. And after each show, the audience is abuzz with excitement, as each of us can relate to how wildly different children’s points of view can be.

Nadelberg assembles the show adeptly, plugging in appropriate pop songs and pacing his actors just the right amount of time. No one is on stage too long and each excerpt is long enough to give us amusing details, but short enough that we don’t get as restless as school children. He picks likeable actors, for the most part, encouraging them to let their guards down, resulting in sincere human appeal and making us laugh until we cry.

It’s a great show and a terrific idea. You have many chances to see it; both in Los Angeles and New York so don’t miss it. And don’t forget to check out their detailed website too at www.getmortified.com.

And there are books too!:
Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic
Mortified: Love Is a Battlefield

Read more!

Mourning Becomes Electra

Mourning Becomes Electra
a kate west review
by Eugene O'Neil
directed by Geoff Elliott & Julia Rodriguez Elliott
A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd. Glendale 91204
running April 8 -
May 29, 2005; contact (818) 240-0910 or www.anoisewithin.org

“Mourning Becomes Electra” by Eugene O’Neil is as darkly oppressive as the tortured author’s life itself. Born in the late 1880’s, O’Neil endured a troubled and unstable home. Unhappy and bitter all of his life, he died in 1953, convinced that life was generally miserable. Adapted with stunning clarity from the Oresteia Trilogy by Greek Tragedian Aeschylus, and as is the case with so many of O’Neil’s works, “Mourning Becomes Electra” is about family dynamics, the burden of which plagued O’Neil all of his life. Set in post-Civil War New England, it tells the story of a doomed family dynasty.

Brigadier-General Ezra Mannon (William Dennis Hunt) comes home from war, only to discover that his wife Christine (Deborah Strang) no longer desires him when she finally confesses that she never loved him and has taken a lover, Captain Adam Brant (Geoff Elliott). Lavinia (Libby West) is the jealous daughter, who, like Electra in the Greek tragedy, plots against her mother (like Clytemnestra) and worships her father (like Agamemnon).

Christine makes the first move by murdering her husband and Lavinia happens to catch her in the act, the daughter’s worst fear come true. Brother Orin (Doug Tompos) comes home shortly after, like his Greek equivalent Orestes, shell-shocked from war and ready to wreak vengeance. Tied to his mother’s apron strings his whole life, he refuses to believe his sister’s account of events, until they actually catch Christine embraced in her lover’s arms.

The resulting tragedy lasts a whopping three hours and forty-five minutes and leaves the audience drained, but never bored. O’Neil knows his stuff. A Noise Within does a competent job with this difficult piece of material. Co-directors Geoff Elliott & Julia Rodriguez Elliott pace the actors well, unfolding the trilogy with heavy but sure hand. Set Designer Michael C. Smith and Costume Designer Julie D. Keen recreate 1880’s New England quite well. The war uniforms look authentic, as do the swirling hoopskirts on the women. The stone-like mausoleum slab in the middle of the stage serves as a constant metaphor of death, easily converted into a cold marriage bed when the occasion arises.

Libby West, as Lavinia, is a bit stiff at first, partly because her character is so tortured and unexpressive. Warming up by the end, Lavinia becomes her mother all over again, with all the fiercely dangerous sexuality. Her black dress in the beginning is later exchanged for the vibrant green colors of her mothers. Doug Tompos is good as the equally suffering brother, becoming convincingly insane by the end.

The supporting cast, love interests Toby Meuli (Peter Niles) and Hazel Niles (Amy Chaffee), are fine, representing a normal, balanced family which is almost sucked into the dreaded darkness of the Mannon family, but thankfully escapes that fate at the end. Deborah Strang, as the domineering matriarch, is strong and expressive, going from a powerful force of nature to a terrified victim of fate.

Like the Furies of Greek mythology, vengeance is exacted with brutal inevitability. No one escapes retribution. The chilling moment at the end, when the sole family heir and survivor is literally entombed in the Mannon household, is well done indeed. Faithful servant Seth (Apollo Dukakis) pounds hammer into window shutters, echoing nails into a coffin and thus we know that justice has been served. The Mannon legacy, rife with haunted memories and a legacy of the doomed can finally be put to rest. The ghosts of the past will be silent.

So if you’re up for almost four hours of heavy drama, know that O’Neil is rarely light, yet always reveals the raw truth of human nature. Be prepared for great insight.

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A Play Without Words

A Play Without Words
a kate west review
devised by Matthew Bourne, music by Terry Davies
inspired by Joseph Losey's film, based on "The Servant" by Robin Maugham
A New Adventures / National Theatre Production
at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 North Grand Ave, Los Angeles 90012
playing April 8 – May 29, 2005; contact 213-628-2772 or www.taperahmanson.com

Matthew Bourne must know how ultra-cool he is. The sophisticated choreographer and creator of the 1995 ground-breaking new version of “Swan Lake” brings his latest work of art to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles and wows audiences yet again with his signature style and aplomb. “A Play Without Words” is just that – a stylized unfolding of intrigue, without words and with much to decipher. First of all, the music is incredible. Sexy jazz tunes created by Terry Davies, specifically for this performance, prevail throughout, setting the silky suave mood. Musical Directors Michael Haslam and Benjamin Pope keep the pace well. The soundtrack, combined with Bourne’s sure-handed choreography and direction, makes for a truly knock-out production.

Each character is portrayed by three different dancers, so there are always a multitude of people on stage, each one acting out a different nuance of the story. There is no dialogue, the dancers relying solely on music and choreography to tell their story. Based on the classic film by Joseph Losey (from Robin Maugham’s “The Servant”), the story is about a worldly couple, living in 1960’s hip London, bored with life and each other. Two servants live with them, who scheme to bring down their masters a notch or two. The resulting drama is exciting and extraordinarily well-executed.

Dancers include Sam Archer, Ewan Wardrop, Richard Winsor, Michela Meazza, Anjali Mehra, Emily Piercy, Scott Ambler, Steve Kirkham, Eddie Nixon, Maxine Fone, Valentina Formenti and Alan Vincent. It is fascinating to watch the different areas of the stage where different parts of the story play out. Matthew Bourne is terrific at expressing dimension in dance and emotion and both are always crystal clear. Already well-known for such brilliant modern productions as “Swan Lake”, “Cinderella” and “Nutcracker”, his current production of “A Play Without Words” is no exception to his prolific roster of gems.

A pure delight, this production is definitely a must see. Witty, sexy, groovy and fun, its intensity steams up the stage, riveting the audience, so much that you can hear a pin drop. It will not disappoint, so hurry and join in another innovative Bourne event, as soon as you can. Read more!

TIVO (and Netflix)

a kate west reflection

TIVO is a wonderful technological gift. A gift and a curse. On the one hand, it gets rid of all those pesky commercials you'll never have to watch again, but on the other, it's extremely addictive. I thought I would end up spending less time in front of the t.v. but now I actually end up spending more, because you can watch a recorded program while you're taping another and then watch that one after. It never ends. And since my genes are prone to addiction, this is exactly the kind of modern escapism I would indeed succumb to.

For those cave dwellers amongst you, TIVO is a DVR system you hook up to your cable box allowing you to record programs which you can fast forward through later. It's a fun toy for sure. But are we now becoming even more disconnected, especially car dwelling Angelenos? Especially for certain people (who, me?) who subscribe to cable, TIVO and Netflix (a brilliant mail-in DVD rental program). Who ever needs to leave the house then?

Remember reading? Sigh. And we wonder why I'm still single ....

Change your life too!
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The Derby

The Kentucky Derby
"The most exciting two minutes in sports"
a kate west reflection


I spent my childhood in Louisville, Kentucky and the thing we are most proud of there, of course, is Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. Oh, and mint juleps.

My father says Kentucky is a good place to be from. He prefers the ocean. And liberalism. But as a child I loved it all, even the extreme weather, the snow days staying home from school and the humid summers that come with that cicada tsss-tsss-tsss sound. Real south, man, and yes that grass really is blue. I never got to go to the Kentucky Derby (not yet, anyway), but I've been to many horse parks and to Churchill Downs itself, off season. It is a magnificent racetrack, with those famous spires and that spotless track. I loved horses as a child (what girl didn't?) and read plenty of "Black Stallion" and every other horse book I could get my hands on. Horse racing seemed romantic to me back then. I don't really feel that way anymore, except once a year, during the Kentucky Derby.

Run the first Saturday of every May since the late 1890's, it is indeed a blink-of-an-eye two minute race, this sport of kings. For competing two to three-year olds only, it's "The Run For The Roses" and is part of the Triple Crown, which also includes the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Ladies wear big hats, everyone sings Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" and by God, they all drink mint juleps (recipe below). With enough money, you can sit old school style, unless you want to try the cheap seats (think bleachers) in the infield, but I'm too old to jostle with that rowdy crowd.

It's one of the few elegant sports we have left in America, often written about and filmed. It sure does provide great cinematic drama, as we hold our breaths right down to the wire (the finish line). A long line of quality horse breeding precedes the modern version, from Triple-Crown winner Secretariat to poor Barbaro (so recently put down). You don't have to be a Racing Form expert to enjoy the spectacle and whether or not you finish Win, Place or Show, it's the best horse race around.


2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water (branch water is ideal)
Fresh Mint
Crushed Ice
Premium Kentucky Bourbon (2 ounces per serving)

Make a simple mint syrup by boiling sugar and water together for 5 minutes; cool. Place in a covered container with 6 or 8 bruised mint sprigs. Refrigerate overnight. Fill a julep cup or glass with crushed ice, then add 1 tablespoon of mint syrup and 2 ounces of bourbon. (Bruise mint by placing in a cup and gently passing the back of a spoon between cup and the leaves a time or two.)Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost outside of cup or glass. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig. Keep remaining covered syrup in refrigerator sans mint leaves.

Read More About It:
The Kentucky Derby: Run for the Roses

The Mint Julep:
Kentucky Mint Julep

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Floyd Collins

Floyd Collins
a kate west review
music & lyrics by Adam Guettel, book & additional lyrics by Tina Landau
directed by Richard Israel
at the West Coast Ensemble, 522 N. La
Brea (between Melrose and Beverly),
Hollywood, CA, 90036
running February 11 -
April 3, 2005; contact 323/525-0022 or visit www.wcensemble.org

"Floyd Collins" is a new musical based on the true story of Floyd Collins, allegedly the best caver in America, who died in 1925, after being trapped and immobile in a cave for 17 days. Exploring alone, and attempting to find a tunnel linking Kentucky's Sand Cave to Mammoth, his leg caught under a rock and he was permanently wedged in. Despite repeated attempts to extricate him and a carnival of onlookers and nationwide interest, he succumbed to the elements and died.

Bryce Ryness plays the doomed Floyd in the West Coast Ensemble's recent production. His strong portrayal does justice to the memory of the Kentuckian caver. Roger Befeler plays his brother Homer, in this particular evening, understudying Stef Tovar. Dana Reynolds is Nellie, sister to the close brothers and David Kaufman plays Skeets Miller, the reporter who visited Floyd daily and tried to keep up his spirits. All the actors turn in good performances and the company is, as usual, professional and competent. The overall production is rather limited, however. A bit too long, it merely tells the tale of Floyd Collins, without offering any significant insight.

Adam Guettel's music is fine, at times even catchy, especially the fun routine "Is That Remarkable", an old-time jazzy and perky ensemble-rousing number. "Carnival" is fun as well, incorporating all cast members. "The Ballad of Floyd Collins" is a constant theme throughout, also contributing to the length of the show. Richard Israel's directing and Cate Caplin's choreography really shine in these types of numbers. The ensemble works together quite well and brings to life what it must be like to twist through narrow crevices. Adding to this illusion is Evan A. Bartoletti's set consisting of mere wooden planks, which are meant to look like a dark cave. The wood is a bit distracting at first; however one soon realizes it is supposed to convey stalactites and stalagmites.

Tina Landau's story of Floyd Collins is moving, yet fairly predictable. A true story, it relates the events accurately, delving into supposition when Floyd is dying and hallucinating at the end. Again, however, it merely tells the tale, in spite of the talent and ultimate sincerity of the cast and producers. It is worth noting, by the way, that a trip to the West Coast Ensemble is always worth it, especially now that they are moving. So it is your last chance to catch them in their present location and to wish them good luck wherever they end up. Donations for the move are always welcome, of course.

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The Caretaker

The Caretaker
a kate west review
written by Harold Pinter, directed by Matt Gottlieb
at the Zephyr Theatre,
7456 Melrose Avenue (between LaBrea and Fairfax), Los Angeles 90046
running February 12 -
March 20, 2005;contact (323) 852-9111

Harold Pinter, brilliant contemporary British playwright, wrote "The Caretaker" in 1960 and has been unstoppable since those early plays. Always sharp, bleak and clever, his works illustrate human alienation and the everyman coping with the harsh modern world.

"The Caretaker" opens with dangerous-looking and surly Mick (Steven Spiro) rifling through a rundown apartment. He runs out when slow-moving Aston (Jaxon Duff Gwillim) enters, bringing home old man Davies (Robert Mandan, of television's "Soap"). The two shuffle in and begin a rather disconnected Pinteresque dialogue, the gist of which is that the old man can stay with Aston for a while, as he is currently homeless. When Aston is away, however, Davies meets the other brother Mick, who greatly intimidates him and a subtle power struggle ensues. Davies tries to play one brother off the other, never knowing for certain which one is actually in charge. Aston has undergone some kind of psychiatric brain washing (a lobotomy is strongly implied), yet in spite of this, the two brothers are fiercely protective of each other. In the end, in spite of each character's plans and dreams, the play concludes precisely the same way it begins, signifying that there is rarely a possibility for change.

Pinter's deliberate pace must be delicately balanced with the energy of the actors, however in this production, Director Matt Gottlieb does not push the actors. Jaxon Duff Gwillim, as the brain foggy Aston has very low energy, which he tries very hard to convey as mentally slow but the danger is that the pacing is deadly slow and at times even boring. Pinter should not be boring. The other two actors are fine; Robert Mandan may be a bit over the top but he is generally quite entertaining and Steven Spiro turns in a fairly conventional performance as the darkly mysterious brother. It is a standard version of a Pinter play, with no obvious insight, yet the playwright's voice is still strong and one comes away with an inkling of a great man's work.

Set Designer Ben Ainlay (also Light Designer) and Costume Designer Susan Chan create a convincingly drab atmosphere with a cluttered, dilapidated apartment and shabby clothes but all that does not compensate for the slow pacing and the fact that the play is over two hours long with two intermissions doesn't help. Still it always nice to hear classical contemporary works acted live so it may not be a total loss.

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Absolutely Nothing In Common

Absolutely Nothing in Common
12 new plays in 2 series (A&B)
a kate west review
the Acting Company at the Laurelgrove Theatre Festival,
Hollywood Court Theatre at 6817 Franklin Avenue, Hollywood
Running Thursdays through Sundays, February 5 - March 13, 2005
Contact (323) 692-8200 and specify either Series A or B

If you've never been to that rather prominent landmark church with the AIDS ribbon on the corner of Franklin and Highland in Hollywood, but always been curious about it, now's your chance. The Acting Company at Laurelgrove presents twelve different opportunities in two series of plays (A & B, running different nights) to take a glimpse into moments of humanity. Twelve scenes, some very short and some long enough to be one acts, showcase little slices of life, depending on the style of each author.

One of the best pieces, running in Series B, is "Allergic to Walnuts," by Michelle Kholos and directed by Gina Collens, a fresh take on the difficulties of dating. Jack Heller and Darlene Young play an older couple who have finally gotten around to a first date. The dialogue is in a slightly absurdist style, but not enough to alienate the audience into not being able to relate to the human truth of the scene. The characters are delightfully odd and the scenario of the two musing about human foibles is greatly entertaining. Well written and economically directed, it is a nice, strong piece to open that evening.

Some scenes do not work as well, however, such as "CeCe and Joey" by Christina Hart and directed by Erik Passoja. Steve Altman and Rita Kane portray two lonely people who meet once a week, he for some company, she for money and end up arguing about breaking routine in a perplexingly pointless manner. The actors do what they can but it is not a very interesting piece.

"The Miraculous Day Quartet" by Mary Steelsmith and directed by Matt Kirkwood is the last piece in both series. With a different cast each night, it is a symphony of people arranged behind musical stands explaining all the random coincidences that prevented them from being present at a momentous event. We do not find out until later what that event was and although dramatic, it comes across rather predictable. Nonetheless, it is probably one of the pieces most often discussed post performance.

Other pieces include "Something for the Boys" by Louis Felder and directed by Jack Heller, "Heart to Heart" by Susan C. Hunter and directed by Sal Romeo, "Daddy's Girl" by Bonnie Summer and directed by Jack Heller, "Off-Hand" by Michel Wallerstein and directed by Portia Doubleday, "Modern Art" written and directed by Christina Hart, "Speed Dating 101" by Jeffrey Davis and directed by Barry Primus, "A Couple of Horses' Asses" by Dave Field and directed by Al Bonadies and "Telegraph Lady" by Steven Levi and directed by Christina Hart. This last piece occurs during World War II and Kara Pulcino is quite strong as the Jersey reformed prostitute (although her scene partner Matt Doherty is a bit weaker).

Actors include Joe Regelbrugge, Devon Reilly, Herschell Sparber, Rob Tepper, Darlene Young, Deborah Austin, Joy Claussen, Christina Hart, Tom O’Keefe, Kaitlin Doubleday, Nameer El-Kadi, Kara Pulcino, Jack Heller, Steve Altman, Rita Kane, Louise Davis, Erik Passoja, Brenda Ballard, Steve Franken, Matt Doherty and also range the gamut of weaker and stronger.

With subjects ranging from coping with Alzheimer's disease to the inevitable agonies of dating, either choice of evening should have at least one appealing thing for everyone. Just as some pieces are longer, some shorter, some are stronger and some weaker. Either way, it is commendable of The Acting Company to showcase new plays and playwrights and offer us a chance to catch up and coming new talent. Read more!

The Shape of Things

The Shape of Things
a kate west review
written by neil labute, directed by dámasco rodriguez
at the Balcony Theatre,
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. South Pasadena
contact the Furious Theatre Company (www.furioustheatre.org) or call (626) 356-PLAY
running January 21 -
February 20, 2005

Playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute brings his trendy cynicism to
Los Angeles audiences once again in “The Shape of Things,” now playing at the Balcony Theatre in Pasadena.

Four college students meet and are immediately entwined in dramatic relationship scenarios that play out in very unexpected ways. Of the four actors, Vonessa Martin, Brad Price, Sara Hennessy and Shawn Lee (all co-founders of the Furious Theatre Company), the men are much stronger than the women. Vonessa Martin as Evelyn, the co-ed who seduces Adam (Brad Price), is rather stiff and mannered, unfortunately. Shawn Lee, as Phillip, Adam’s best friend, is the most engaging and dynamic, casually tossing out lines designed to skewer, yet amuse. Neil LaBute’s dialogue is an acquired taste in the first place, as it is unrealistically stylized at times and only works with an actor’s strong delivery.

The story is that Evelyn (Vonessa Martin) and Adam (Brad Price) meet and apparently fall in love. Phillip (Shawn Lee) and Jenny (Sara Hennessy) also meet and fall in love and the four of them parallel each other as they complicate each other’s lives. Misunderstandings and innuendoes ensue and in spite of the best of intentions, each friend becomes increasingly disheartened, duplicitous and cruel. All four characters grow up meanwhile, especially Adam, who goes from an awkward nail-biting wallflower to a confident, stylish, wiser man.

The unexpected conclusion is rather harsh and incredulous. To LaBute’s credit, we don’t see this one coming, however, it may leave you cold. Dámasco Rodriguez’s directing is fine, the transitions smooth and actually entertaining, but the overall story is rather bleak. Also, scenic Designer Melissa Teoh built a nice, white set, which converts seamlessly into various scenes (coffee shop, museum, apartment, etc.). Still, although the play is short, with no intermission, the final act is a bit tedious and overly written. If you enjoy this type of cold introspection, give it a try, but remember this is not a play for romantic hopefuls.

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The Blacker the Berry

The Blacker the Berry, the Sweeter the Juice
a kate west review
written by and starring Mario Burrell, directed by Jemal McNeil
at the Zephyr Theatre,
7458 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, CA 90046
contact www.marioburrell.com or call
(323) 960-7792
Running January 2 –
February 14, 2005

Mario Burrell, vibrant local talent, Broadway veteran (“Rent”) and former Groundlings student (famous improv troupe – see www.groundlings.com), tells his own tale in “The Blacker the
Berry, the Sweeter the Juice.” Playing to full houses at the Zephyr Theatre in Hollywood, Mario relates his life in show business while reflecting on his father, Walter Burrell (prominent journalist and publicist), who inspired him to celebrate his black heritage.

It is a sweetly-told love ballad, encompassing all the wrongs and rights that Hollywood has dealt him as a black actor and emphasizing his ability to stay strong, holding on to the memory of his beloved father. His father’s passing away had a profound on him obviously, but it also gave him the strength of integrity to remain true to himself.

Mario plays about eight different characters, all wildly different, and he completely immerses himself in each. One standout character is an older woman Mario presumably met while teaching at the Los Angeles Unified School District whose down-to-earth personality really shines through in his delightful version. She does not put up with fools and runs her classroom in a very real no-nonsense, but absolutely loving way. Her homespun sayings are highly entertaining and Mario delivers each with crowd-pleasing expertise. He also impersonates a street punk with acting aspirations, a clueless director who asks him to “be blacker” (Kelli Kirkland makes a special as the “Fried Chicken Fairy” to help him achieve that blackness) and many other delightful characters, each having had a vivid impact on his life.

Director Jemal McNeil paces Mario fairly well, although that particular evening there seemed to be some minor technical glitches and Mario had to overcome some initial nervousness. The house was packed to the rafters, however, which is truly commendable for a one-man show. Los Angeles audiences can be fickle, after all. Mario’s sincere and still-raw emotion over his father and his obvious love of theater and for playing fascinating characters makes this a poignant performance. He has a real sweetness in his stage presence and is immediately likeable. While the show could have been a bit longer and we would have liked to hear more about his father, it is a nice piece of nostalgia and audiences leave gratified to have shared some common emotions.

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Big River

Big River, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
a Kate West review
music and lyrics by Roger Miller; book by William Hauptman
directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun
a Deaf West Theatre Production
at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre
135 North Grand Ave, Los Angeles 90012
January 11 -23, 2005; Call 213-628-2772

Rarely does a stage production come along so fascinatingly innovative that you remember it for days. The Deaf West Theatre's adaptation of "Big River", now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre, is just such a piece.

Roughly half the performers are deaf, first of all, already an unusual device in a musical. The speaking actors can all sign, resulting in a delightful collaboration of seamless synchronicity. Each deaf actor has a speaking partner shadowing him or her 'voicing ' their lines. It all works remarkably well, as evidenced by the wonderful choreography of Jeff Calhoun (also the director). Some of the hearing actors are on their own, such as Michael McElroy, who gives a very moving performance as the runaway slave Jim. He signs for himself.

Not only is a musical version of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" an interesting choice, but it takes on an added dimension of emotional intensity in this particular production. And it stays true to the original text of the beloved story. Mark Twain is the narrator, impeccably and commandingly portrayed by Daniel Jenkins, who voices the character of Huck (played by the delightful and extraordinarily talented Tyrone Giordano). He relates the entire story, beginning with Huck's escapades with Tom Sawyer (Benjamin Schrader), his running away from Widow Douglas (Cathy Newman) and helping Jim escape slavehood, despite his uneasy conscience. Huck was brought up to believe it is a sin to free a black slave but his adventures with Jim teach him the inhumanity of that belief and he vows to stay true to Jim, even if it means hell and damnation for himself, a seemingly very powerful deterrent.

Along the way, he has to address his own history, especially with his father, Pap, signed by Troy Kotsur and voiced by Erick Devine. This character is the most delightful of all because the two actors who portray him work so well together. When one succumbs to the devil drink and takes a swig out of the jug, the other wipes his mouth. They move in perfect harmony and are dressed in identical rags. It is a very clever device. Huck runs away from his drunken father, never hoping to find a decent life, but accepting his present wild existence.

Later, Huck and Jim encounter two scoundrels, the Duke (signed by the versatile Troy Kotsur and voiced by James Judy) and the King (Erick Devine), who impress him tremendously at first, but he soon learns that although they talk pretty fancy they are dishonest men and not worthy of his or Jim's friendship. They try to trick everyone they meet. Huck helps one victim, the lovely Joanna Wilkes (signed by Alexandria Wailes and voiced by Melissa Van Der Schyff), escape the two criminals and as a result most of the characters are redeemed, including the slave Jim, who to Huck's initial astonishment, has the same human feelings for his own family as do white folk.

Jeff Calhoun is to be profoundly commended for this amazing production. All the actors are acutely aware of each other and work in harmonious precision together. Threre are no weak moments and no weak actors. All the musical numbers are show-stomping fun and one even ends in silence, with the entire cast signing together which will send a chill up your spine. It would have been interesting had the final moment on stage ended in silence as well, since there were a good number of deaf actors and audience members and a notable reference to deafness in the production itself. The original book is of course, a defining statement about ignorance and intolerance and thus a perfect venue for this theater company.

It earned a much deserved that standing ovation on opening night and proves to be a huge hit with audiences, based on overheard post-play discussions. Tip: in the world of the non-hearing, applause is signified by fluttering your hands above your head. (Not to worry, all will become clear if you attend). It looks like they will have sold-out houses for their entire run. And well they should. Read more!


a kate west review
written and directed by Dan Goggin
at Theatre West,
3333 Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 90068
January 20, 2005 for 7 weeks only
contact (323) 851-7977 or www.theatrewest.org

Singing and dancing nuns are always funny, especially to lapsed Catholics, so the musical “Nunsense” is inevitably a crowd pleaser. On the other hand it can also come across a bit tired as in Theatre West’s latest production of this perennial favorite starring stage veterans Betty Garrett (best known as the feisty landlady on television’s “Laverne and Shirley”), Bridget Hanley, Barbara Mallory, Lee Meriwether (one of the sexy elite chosen to play Catwoman back in the day), Rhonda Stovey and Sandra Tucker.

The cast is delightful, each member a gifted and experienced actress who knows how to hold an audience in the palm of her hand, yet even they almost cannot overcome the trite material. The story begins with the Little Sisters of Hoboken holding a fundraiser to bury four of their order who succumbed to bad soup, now sitting in kitchen refrigerators. The rest of the story is simply variety numbers, one after the other, until random coincidences solve all of the problems in a rather flimsy manner.

Each nun has a solo number in the spotlight, usually reflecting her inner desires and musings. Lee Meriwether shines as Sister Robert Anne, the street-smart nun from Brooklyn whose effortless banter and fantastic stage presence hold the audience captive. She is truly the best thing in the show, a terrific lady and consummate entertainer. She’s old school. Betty Garrett is endearingly sweet as Sister Julia, the cook who poisoned her fellow sisters and can’t seem to get back on the right track although the new material written especially for her seems a bit forced. Writer/Director Dan Goggin might have been better off giving the script a complete overhaul. Mother Superior is Sandra Tucker as Sister Regina, who oversees the whole evening and has an amusing “drunk” scene. The rest of the cast, Bridget Hanley, Barbara Mallory and Rhonda Stovey are also strong and take turns addressing the audience and upholding the reality of a local high school benefit show.

One of the more distracting elements is the set by Joseph M. Altadonna and Daniel Keough. It is the set of “Grease,” supposedly left there by the high school students who are allowing the sisters to hold a benefit on their off night. It would have been much better had the stage been simply a high school auditorium setting. As it is, the background does not fit in with the story. Also the constant topical references and inside jokes grow a bit tedious. The company is obviously thrilled to be working with local celebrities but we don’t need to be reminded of it every other scene. All in all, the women are greatly entertaining but the show is a little too long. It is amusing to have them venture into the audience every once in a while, turn on the lights and talk to us but the show can be half as long and still tell its simple story. The silly resolution at the end is quite sudden and again, rather far-fetched. If you can sit through the evening, be my guest. The women are worth it but the story is not.

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a Kate West review
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne
at Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles
contact UCLA Central Ticket Office (310) 825-2101
info@uclalive.org or www.matthewbournesnutcracker.com
Running December 15 – January 2, 2005

Matthew Bourne, that brilliant British choreographer sensation, once again wows Los Angeles audiences with his revival of his 1992 “Nutcracker!” at Royce Hall this holiday season. Known for his wildly flamboyant and uniquely witty adaptations of popular ballets such as “Cinderella” and “Swan Lake” (one of the few outstanding productions seen in Los Angeles that truly deserved a standing ovation), he brings a once-in-a-lifetime experience to audiences with each new show.

This version the “The Nutcracker” places the children in a creepy sterile orphanage where Clara fantasizes about a nutcracker coming to life and taking her to fabulous new experiences. Encountering outlandish characters along the way, (exquisitely costumed in fantastic designs by Anthony Ward, who is also responsible for an incredible set, which at one point includes a giant fully pillow), she returns from Sweetieland empowered to make her escape. Dancing among orphans, Princess Sugar, Prince Bon-Bon, Humbug Bouncer, Queen Candy, Cupids and many more, Clara’s dance highlights include spectacular numbers on a frozen lake and on a huge pink wedding cake. Although Clara loses her love in the fantasy world, he does exist as her savior in the real one. Too numerous to list, Scott Ambler, Etta Murfitt, Shelby Williams, Anabelle Dalling, Rachel Lancaster, Vicky Evans, Alan Vincent and Adam Galbraith are among just a few of the incredibly talented dancers.

“Nutcracker!” is such a simple story it does not need much explanation, merely a recommendation to see it as soon as possible. This production is absolutely a refreshing twist on a timeless Christmas tradition. Rest assured that if Matthew Bourne is involved, you are in for a rare treat and will see something you will remember forever. An absolute must for all family members, please try to fit it into your busy holiday season. You can then tell your grandchildren you saw an early Matthew Bourne. It will not disappoint you.

Pytor Illych Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker - Complete Ballet
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