Tuesday, February 21, 2017

FAMILY ONLY by Carol Kaufman Segal
            The world premiere of Family Only, playing at Theatre West, was written by Daniel Vinyard who is a member of Theatre West, and a prolific playwright.   This is another play about a dysfunctional family, but one that can really get “under one’s skin.”  With all of their “kvetching” (complaining), I almost wanted to walk up on the stage and chastise some of the members of this outrages family!  But fortunately, this is a comedy/drama and is not to be taken seriously.
            Will (Frank Gangarossa) and Nicole (Riley Rae Baker) are a young couple who have worked hard and are proud and happy to have purchased their first home in an upscale neighborhood south of Ventura Blvd., in Sherman Oaks.  So what if it is a fixer-upper?  It boasts three bedrooms and a beautiful backyard with a lovely swimming pool (great looking backyard, set by Jeff G. Rack).
            Wanting to share their happiness, and for a chance to show them their new home, Will and Nicole invited family members to a housewarming party.  The arrivals included Will’s dad Walter (Roger Kent Cruz).  Walter is a fantasist, not the most devoted worker, and always looking for ways to get rich quick and still looking;  Brenda (Sheila Shaw), Will’s stepmother who understands Walter  and puts up with a lot from him, but loves him nevertheless; Will’s half-sister Andrea (Ann Leyden) recently divorced and about to be evicted from her home, and her young, spoiled daughter Chloe (never seen on stage); and last but not least is Will’s grandmother Amanda (Dianne Travis), a woman who brusquely speaks her mind.
            As the day wears on, instead of showing pride for the accomplishments that Will has made with his job and his life, these family members show more concern for their own roblems and expect him to grant them help to solve them.  Dad looks for money to back one of his fly-by-night ideas.  Andrea doesn’t know why Will can’t offer her a place to stay with Chloe since he has a three bedroom home and he and Nicky have no children of their own.  Before the day is over, no one gets along with anyone, and one by one, they decide to leave.  Will this be the end of a family relationship?

            Arden Teresa Lewis directs the well-honed cast in Family Only playing Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 2 PM, through March 19, at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West in Los Angeles.  Tickets are available online at www.theatrewest.org, or by phone at (323) 851-7977.       


Monday, February 20, 2017

            Eugene O’Neil won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his play, Long Day’s Journey into Night, based on his own dysfunctional family.  Like most of O’Neil’s plays, it is morose and tragic.  However, it is a classic, and though it runs for more than three hours, the drama is enticing, especially when it is presented with a sterling cast which you will find at the Geffen Playhouse.
            The time is a day in August, 1912, the place, the Tyrone Family’s summer home in New London, Connecticut (lovely set by Tom Buderwitz).  The day begins at 8:30 a.m. and takes place throughout a single day until around midnight.  James (three-time Tony nominee Alfred Molina) has just brought his wife, Mary (seven-time Emmy nominee Jane Kaczmarek), home from a hospital stay.  His concern for her mental state is apparent.  She appears in a happy frame of mind.    
            As the hours progress, their two sons, James, Jr. (Stephen Louis Grush) and Edmund (Colin Woodell), arrive home.  At times, the love of each of them for one another protrudes through the moments, but there is a bitterness that prevails between them all due to each of their individual demons. James drinks heavily to forget his fate in life (he had wanted to be an actor), Mary continues her pill-popping.  (She claims she needs her pills for her arthritic hands!)  James, Jr. has a problem with alcohol and women, but obviously, loves Edmund and is deeply concerned for his health.  Edmund, poor Edmund is suffering from serious consumption and James, who is a penny-pincher, wants to put him in a state hospital, while James, Jr. tries to convince his father to send him to a private facility.
            The play is heavy, but with such captivating performances, the time goes quickly.  There is a moment of comic relief when the family maid, Cathleen (Angela Goethals), comes back from taking Mary for a ride to pick up her “pain pills.”   Cathleen, we discover, likes to imbibe a bit herself and she and Mary share a bottle in a scene in which they both become inebriated.
            Jeanie Hackett does a great job directing an outstanding cast.  Kaczmarek unravels as the day passes, and it is amazing to see the slow downward change in her character.  Molina’s nature changes from moment to moment.  At first he appears to be a loving husband and father, but again, he can become belligerent.  He seems to vacillate.  Could it be the alcohol?   Edmund is the only reasonable person in the family, no demons, but a serious illness which Woodell creates very convincingly.
            Long Day’s Journey into Night plays Tuesdays through Fridays at 7 PM, Saturdays at      1 PM and 7 PM, and Sundays at 2 PM, through March 18, at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles.  Tickets are available online at www.geffenplayhouse.org, by phone at (310) 208-5454, or at the Geffen Playhouse Box Office.



Friday, February 17, 2017

CIRCUS 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus by Carol Kaufman Segal
            Wow!   I kept saying that word throughout the entire performance of this great circus show at the Pantages Theatre.   This is truly a circus spectacular with a huge cast from all over the world performing unique, skillful, and dangerous acts joined by two of the most beautiful elephants, a mother and her baby.
            This is a circus set in 1903 and is presented in two acts.  The scenic design by Todd Ivins is set in an unusual decadent circus tent.  Act 1 represents the front of the circus with trucks, props and rigging.  Act 2 features the tent with flagpoles and rigging being raised into the roof of the theater.
            The timely costumes, designed by Angela Aaron, are re-creations from the 1903 era, styles that were studied by the designer through photographs from the time, historic museum pieces, and from experts in the field.  The exciting soundtrack, played throughout the show, captures the time and coincides with the anxiety of each act.  The music is composed by Evan Jolly.
            Every act is breathtaking.  There are amazing acrobats, unbelievable contortionists, high wire acts, balancing acts, a juggler, and high flying acts that can keep you on the edge of your seat.   Willy Whipsnade (David Williamson), is a charming and delightful Ringmaster.  He adds a lot of fun and makes it a real family show by integrating children from the audience to participate.
            I can’t let you think that you will see two real elephants on the stage of the Pantages.  But you will love the life-like puppets created by the winning team of puppeteers who created the National Theatre’s War Horse.  They appear sporadically throughout the show while the mother teaches her baby!
            Circus 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus, produced by Simon Painter, Tom Lawson and MagicSpace Entertainment, plays only through Sunday, Feb 19, at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles.  Hope you can make it in time.

FOR PIANO AND HARPO by Carol Kaufman Segal
            For Piano and Harpo, written by and starring Dan Castellaneta, is a play making its world premiere at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank.  Levant was a multi-talented pianist, composer, actor, and comedian who appeared in films, on television, and stage.  He studied piano with Arnold Schoenberg and was a close friend to George Gershwin.  He had a sharp sense of humor, but at the same time, he was a troubled man.
The play centers on a time when Oscar (Dan Castellaneta) finds himself in a psychiatric ward at Mount Sinai Hospital, most likely due to his addiction to prescription drugs and his struggles with his demons.  While his mind transforms from past to present, his thoughts go back to a time when he left home to stay with his closest friend, Harpo Marx (JD Cullum).  He relives encounters with his father (Phil Proctor) and mother (Gail Matthius), Hollywood celebrities like Jack Paar (Jonathan Stark), Fanny Brice (Gail Matthius), and, George Gershwin (Jonathan Stark), people who had an effect on his past. 
As Levant struggles with his problems, it is obvious that he is a genius haunted by his past.  But he is also an obstinate man who refuses to accept the fact that he is where he is in order to be helped if he wants to be released.  When at last, he has no other option but to cooperate with the medical staff, eventually he is redeemed.
Castellaneta brings Oscar Levant to life supported by a wonderful cast, each performing  multiple roles.  They include Deb Lacusta (June Levant/Barbara), Gail Matthius (Shirley, Oscar’s Mother, Fanny Brice), (Phil Proctor (Sidney, Butler, Oscar’s Father), Jonathan Stark (Dr. Grenleigh, Jack Paar, George Gershwin).  J. D. Cullum plays the role of Charlie, but his real asset to the production is his wonderful performance as Harpo. Pianist David O and Harpist Julian Risigari-Gai add the musical attraction to the production, all under the perceptive direction of Stefan Novinski.
For Piano and Harpo plays Wednesday through Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 4 PM, at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside in Burbank, through March 5.  Tickets are available online at www.falcontheatre.com, or by calling (818), 955-8101.


Monday, February 13, 2017

 DEBUSSY:  His Letters and His Music by Carol Kaufman Segal
            Illustrious soprano, Julia Migenes, is performing in a world premiere of her latest musical portrait of the renowned French composer, Claude Debussy, at the Odyssey Theatre.  Debussy (b. 1862) and his younger contemporary, Maurice Ravel (b. 1875), are considered the creators of the musical style of impressionism.
            Claude Debussy was born in France to a poor family.  He was the eldest of five children.  When he was 11 years old, he began studying piano at the Paris Conservatory, where he was recognized as a child prodigy.   He began to study composition when he was 18 years old, and at the age of 22, he won the important Prix de Rome.  He flourished in every field of music including opera. 
            Julia Migenes grew up in New York.  She was chosen to sing in Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts when she was a teenager.  She then starred as Hodel in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof.  She has performed in many operas here and throughout Europe, and has recorded over 30 CDs and DVDs.  She is the recipient of many awards for her outstanding work.
As Migenes reads from his letters, it is obvious that Debussy was a scoundrel when it came to women.  He had numerous affairs, some with married women.  He finally married, but unfortunately, his first wife, Lilly Texier, attempted suicide when he abandoned her for a married woman, singer Emma Bardac.   He eventually married Bardac and they had a daughter.  Unfortunately, Debussy died of colon cancer at the early age of 55.
             Migenes strolls around the stage, lounges on the piano, and sometimes relaxes on a settee as she reads letters written by Debussy, interposing them with information regarding his life.  She barely allows herself to sing during the performance, and had she done more, I believe it would have made her performance more enlightening.  I kept hoping to hear more of her beautiful singing voice.
The high point of the production is the wonderful piano accompaniment provided by Manuel Arellano who performs music by Debussy, Rossini, Cesar Franck, Johann Sebation Bach, Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner, and Carl Czerny as background music throughout the performance.

Debussy:  His Letters and His Music is directed by Peter Medak.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, through March 25, at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.  For reservations, call (310) 477-2055, or go online at www.OdysseyTheatre.com.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

            The documentary about the life of choreographer Ohad Naharin is alluring in every way.  Born and raised on a kibbutz in Israel, he was ordained to become a dancer though he did not pursue studying the art until the age of 22 after serving in the Israeli army with an entertainment company.  While visiting Israel, Martha Graham saw him and invited him to join her company in New York.  This was his entry into the United States.
            He did not stay too long with Martha Graham and ended up one season with Maurice Bejart.  Not feeling fulfilled, he started to develop works of his own and began his career as a choreographer.  Naharin was (and is) a task master, and his early years were contentious.  Sometimes dancers would walk out of rehearsals, but they always seemed to return.  Though he was hard on his dancers, they respected him and believed in his work.  While in New York, he met and married Mari Kajiwara, a lead dancer with Alvin Ailey, who left the company to join Naharin.
            Naharin returned to Israel with Kajiwara when he was offered the position to run the Batsheva Dance Company.  That is where he flourished and developed his unique dance form that he named Gaga.  Watching his style of choreography is not only exhilarating, but a wonder to watch.  It takes a special skill to develop, and definitely a special body to perform. 
His is “a true story of love and dance”.  Naharin’s love and passion for dance is obvious throughout the film.  His love for Mari was strong, and unfortunately, after she passed away from cancer at the age of 50, his love of dance helped him to survive her loss.
            I especially found my interest in the dance rehearsals and how they were tackled, and finally and particularly, the dance creations themselves.  It has to take a task master like Ohad Naharin, Mr. Gaga himself, to create such beauty. Directed by Tomer Heymann.
            Laemmle’s Town Center, Encino
            Playhouse 7, Pasadena
            Monica Film Center, Santa Monica
            Regal University Town Center, Irvine

Running time, 100 minutes

Sunday, February 5, 2017

THE DAUGHTER by Carol Kaufman Segal
            The Daughter, a modern adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, is a powerful film by Australian writer and director Simon Stone that he originally wrote for the stage.  It centers around two families in a small town in Australia that relies on its timber mill for its existence,’
The owner of the timber mill, wealthy Henry Neilson (Geoffrey Rush), announces that he is closing the mill that has been in existence for more than 100 years.  No worries for Henry, but a catastrophe for the town and its people. 
Henry, whose wife committed suicide some years ago, is getting married to his former housekeeper, Anna (Anna Torv) a woman much younger than he.  Henry’s son Christian (Paul Schneider), who has lived for years in America, returns home to attend his father’s wedding.    Strapped with trouble in his own marriage and fighting an alcoholic problem, Christian does not appear happy until he runs into his long-time friend, Oliver (Ewen Leslie).
Christian finds himself spending most of his time with Oliver and his family, his wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto), their teen-age daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young), and Oliver’s father, Walter (Sam Neill), who once had a close relationship with Henry.  Christian sees his friend in a happy environment with a loving and devoted wife, a close relationship with a teenage daughter, and a very caring father. Walter even keeps a small refuge for wounded animals on the property, and, after discovering a wild duck that Henry shot and wounded, he adds it to the refuge.
In calls to his wife in America, Christian’s situation goes downhill, and he begins to imbibe more heavily.  He is resentful of his father’s marriage, and he becomes resentful of Oliver’s happiness.  The moments are tense as he seems destined to make trouble for everyone involved in his life.  Are his emotions bad enough to cause him to finally break down and reveal long held family secrets that he, unexpectedly, discovered, secrets that will affect the lives of both families?
The Daughter is an exceptional film that keeps one’s interest throughout its 96 minutes.  All of the actors give stirring performance, each giving reality to the production (including Wilson Moore as Hedvig’s boyfriend Adam).  Stone’s writing and direction are well-honed. 
The Daughter is playing at Laemmle’s Royal in West Los Angeles.  Not rated.