Wednesday, January 17, 2018

San Diego World Premiere “Color of Light” Casts Shades Of Brightness On Matisse’s Later Life.

Matisse: I call upon that which is holy in me and ask that it be revealed in my work.
Sister Jacques-Marie: But your work isn’t religious.
Matisse: All art is religious if the artist is sincere.

In Jessie Kornbluth’s world premiere play, “The Color of Light”, now showing at the 10th Avenue Arts Center, former home of Mo’Olelo, audiences are given an inside look into the ageing and frail artist, Matisse and how his recuperation from cancer surgery kept him alert and working with the help and inspiration of a novice nun and a grand plan for a church chapel.

Kornbluth was not a playwright at the time he penned this play, but a writer none-the- less. He was inspired to write the piece after a visit to Provence, a trek to the chapel and an overwhelming feeling of its absolute beauty and a curiosity of how the chapel came to be. After much research into the later life of Matisse, he was moved to write “The Color of Light”.

Kornbluth’s work is a co-production with Vantage Theatre and Talent to aMuse Theatre. It is playing at the downtown venue through Feb 3rd and is directed by Robert Salerno who also responsible for sound design and projections.   
O.P. Hadlock and Cicily Keppel (Photo: Marty Kranzberg)
Monique Bourgeois (Cecily Keppel) a 21- year old nursing student has her heart set on entering the convent. Matisse (O.P. Hadlock) an avowed atheist was 72 at the time Monique came into his life. They form a bond to friendship, a paternal love that will last until his death, especially after they discover that what they have in common is stronger that what separates them. “Do I believe in God? Yes, when I work.”

This religiously devoted and caring young woman (barely old enough to drink in this country when they first meet) is a beautiful commentary on a little known fact in Matisse’s life, at least for yours truly.

With O.P. Hadlock as the feisty and oft time sentimental Matisse, the story transitions in his drawing/studio/bedroom (O.P. Hadlock) with the ailing Matisse demanding the attention of his Russian caregiver/secretary Lydia (Bobbie Helland) to visits from his long time friend Pablo Picasso (James Steinberg) to strong opposition from the church in the form of an overly stern Mother Superior (Jody Catlin) to a rather over the top and daffy (and unnecessary) priest (Terrence J. Burke) claiming to have experience in architecture.
Jody Catlin and O.P. Hadlock
Aside from the distractions of the mother superior and the priest, the story unfolds in short somewhat choppy scenes that otherwise hold our interest, especially between Lydia, Monique and Matisse. The chemistry is there and all three actors immerse themselves into their characters with credibility and authority.

The discussions about art vs. religion are intriguing but Michael Barahura’s lighting design and Salerno’s projections that bring out the brilliance of Matisse’s work that light up the stage, especially in Act II, are worth the trip downtown.  
Kornbluth’s work is a much needed shot in arm in the midst of the political insanity going on now by showing us that love and understanding, beauty and art still have a place in our lives whether we agree with each other or not.

Matisse with Sister Jacques- Marie.
Both artist and nun lived through harrowing times when dictators and detractors tried to overthrow countries destroying everything in their wake, but in their little corner of the universe, Matisse and Monique were able to shine another light on the world.

The completion of the Chapelle du Rosaire in Venice that Matisse would refer to as his “final and greatest work” is stunningly projected on the back walls and sides of the theatre at plays end with a picture of both artist and now Sister Jacques- Marie. It’s spine tingling.
Inside The Chapelle du Rosaire 
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 3rd.
Organization: Vantage Theatre and Talent To aMuse Theatre
Phone: 619-940-6813
Production Type: Drama
Where: 930 10th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92108
Ticket Prices: $30.00
Venue: Tenth Avenue Arts Center

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

“I Am My Own Wife”: John Tufts Bewitches As Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

“I need to believe in her stories as much as she does. That Lothar Berfelde navigated a path between the two most repressive regimes the Western World has ever known - the Nazis and the Communists - in a pair of heels.”(Doug Wright)

“I Am My Own Wife” by Douglas Wright, work-shopped and finalized at the first La Jolla Playhouses Page to Stage program in 2001 is in excellent hands at the Laguna Playhouse with John Tufts as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

Jefferson May, whose star rose condiderably, took the show to New York and ultimately returned to La Jolla with a Tony in hand for his outstanding performance. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Play and it is now in a mesmerizing production directed by Jenny Sullivan.

Nimble actor John Tufts takes us on the same journey that Lothar Berfelde, aka, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s life took when he discovered at an early age that he was a transvestite who openly dressed as a woman and, lived through and survived the Nazi and Soviet Regimes during and after WWII.
John Tufts as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf
Born in 1928 Berlin Lothar was forced by his abusive father, already a Nazi, to join Hitler’s Youth Movement. Later she weathered her parent’s divorce and after her mother took the children to East Prussia she met and was was influenced by her lesbian aunt who encouraged her to be herself.

Some time later she went back to Berlin to help her father, but being the bastard that he was, he attacked her and locked her in her room. As a collector, she always carried a ring of miscellaneous keys in her pocket. That allowed her to leave the room where, as the story goes, it was either she or her father. She killed him in self -defense and was sentenced to four years in prison. With luck on her side the war came to and end and she managed to walk away from the prison.
Based on a series of interviews and letters playwright Doug Wright had with Charlotte while he was in Berlin, 1993 covering the demise of the Berlin Wall, the story of a life of creativity, survival, humor, espionage and even reluctant informant for the Stasi against her friends and family more for survival than allegiance, comes full circle.

“I thought if they shoot me, what’s the difference between a boy and a girl, because dead is dead!”

Dressed in a simple black dress (Keith Mitchell) with a double strand of pearls around his neck, a babushka on his head and clunky black shoes and stockings, Tufts takes on the persona of Charlotte (as well as 25 others) in a one- man tour de force performance second to none.  
John Tufts in Laguna Playhouse's "I Am My Own Wife"
Under Sullivan’s astute direction and surrounded by Keith Mitchell’s  (set designer) collection of old gramophones, phonographs, record players, clocks of various sizes and shapes, old furniture lining the walls and suspended from the rafters, and with Pablo Santiago’s on spot lighting design, Warren Casey’s pros, Christopher Moscatiellosoun accurate sounds, not to mention… projections on a chalkboard in the background the visuals are overwhelming.

“Welcome to my Gr├╝nderzeit-Museum.”

We first meet our lady in waiting as she carefully peeks through the door of her museum before she greets us. When she does emerge she is cradling an antique ‘Thomas Alva Edison’s invention’, the 1887 phonograph the worlds first, in her arms. She carefully sets it on a small table. In the background hanging on the wall is a framed painting of the Edison phonograph with the dog, Nipper, ‘ears cocked” to listen into the long horn.

Charlotte begins by giving us a history of the gramophone recalling how he, Lothar, loved to listen to his records on the gramophone when he was a child. Having developed a fascination with the machines, he began his collections along with all sorts of antiques, which he later turned into a museum and also won him/her the ‘medal of honor’ by the East German communist government for the preservation of German antiques.

“The day I received the medal was for me recognition of my work, and I thought It’s good, because other people see that a transvestite can work. A transvestite becomes such a medal.”

Tufts’ beautifully nuanced performance captivates with just the right combination of moves to tell Charlotte’s story. Every time he speaks in Charlotte’s voice, (he is also 35 other characters including Doug Wright himself) he touches his hand to the double string of pearls, he moves at angles and faces the audience in his other voices. He is fascinating to watch and has found her voice in such telling ways that it is impossible to take you eyes off of him.

Aside from the fact that Tufts performance is so breathtaking, you will find Charlotte’s life equally gripping as she transitions from character to character with as much as a hand movement, a nod, a um, yes? ja? a look, a wave, smoothing her dress, or just simply looking straight out into the audience.
At 40 years old her mother said to her, “Lottchen, it’s all very well to play dress-up. But now you’ve grown into a man. When will you marry?” And I said to her “My dear Mutti, I am my own wife.”

“I Am My Own Wife” continues through Jan 28th on the Laguna Stage (the 4th show in the Laguna Playhouse 97th season).

For yours truly, it was a trip down memory lane having seen it before, but confess that I had to catch up on so much forgotten material that I almost didn’t remember what it was like for the ‘other’ to live through under Hitler and Russian regimes.  “Like the Jews, we were fair game.”
She eventually moved to Sweden, but returned to her museum in Berlin every five years. While at the museum, Charlotte died of a heart attack at the age of 74. The story of her life premiered off- Broadway one year later in 2004.

Hers is a history worth repeating.

“I Am My Own Wife” continues through Jan 28th on the Laguna Stage and is the 4th show in the Laguna Playhouse 97th season.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Jan. 28th
Organization: Laguna Playhouse
Phone: 1-949-497-2787
Production Type: Drama
Where: 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $51.00
Venue: Mainstage -Moulton Theatre

Photo: David Bazemore, Ensemble Studio

Monday, January 15, 2018

“Around The World in 80 Days” Hits Just The Right Stride at North Coast Rep.

If your idea of a perfect traveling experience is sitting in you favorite seat at North Coast Repertory Theatre and avoid all the pitfalls traveling affords, join those who on opening night traveled the world in 80 days (on trains, steamers and elephant, and fraught with danger, adventure and outrageous happenings) with Richard Baird, Loren Lester, Omri Schein, Lovlee Carroll and Will Vought, who plays 19 characters, and together with the rest of the cast play 40 characters by shows end.

Forget about the balloon and put on your imagination caps for a journey with some folks you will get to know in that time frame, and more importantly, some you will probably want to meet up with on your next trip or not.  
Loren Lester and Omri Schein
Jules Vern’s 1780 classic adventure “Around The world in 80 Days” has been made into a motion picture and adapted to several play versions most following the speedy journey around the world and stopping off for a quick look- see in different countries, continents and hotel lobbies usually with a cast larger than seen at NCR.

This particular version, somewhat resembling Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps”, was adapted by Mark Brown and deftly directed by Allison Bibicoff and is in a San Diego Premiere running through Feb. 4th.  It is a hoot and a howl.

Briefly, our central character Phileas Fogg (Baird is a perfect fit as the mysterious, meticulous and methodical Fogg) is at his Reform Club where his whist partners are discussing a recent bank robbery. The robber got away scot-free with fifty thousand pounds from the Bank of London.
Omri Schein, Richard Baird and Loren Lester
They argue back and forth about how this robber could or not, get away with the crime. It is now 1872 and Fogg pipes in that the world has grown smaller (than it was 100 years ago) because of the completion of the new Great Indian Peninsular Railway, making it much easier to make it around the world in 80 days (a mathematical fact according to Fogg) thereby eluding the law. 

By making this statement he contradicts some of his friends who insist that it would take three months. At this time, a twenty thousand pound wager is agreed upon that sets this tale into motion.

If he’s to win the bet, he must make all the right connections. However even without airline delays that are so much a part of our now daily lives, unexpected trials and tribulations will get in the way of our fellow travelers.  

Fogg, whose routine is exactly the same everyday, summons his Parisian valet Passepartout (Omri Schein is one hell of an actor doing the almost impossible). He is perfect as the versatile decoy and does yeoman’s work as the over the top clown and do all -be all servant to Baird’s steady as she goes gentlemanly aura.  

Omri’s Passepartout claims to have been a singer, horse rider, trapeze artist, tight ropewalker and goat herder as he tumbles on to the stage and does a head stand. 
Loren Lester and Will Vought  
He is ordered by Fogg to take “two carpet bags with the bare essentials” along with the Bradshaw Guide that contains timetables of every steamer and railway in the world, and be prepared for some travel.

And the trek begins on the train with the first stop in Brindisi and from there to Bombay via Suez. It is here we meet up with Inspector Fix (Loren Lester). He follows Fogg throughout the journey, resembling Colombo in a long trench coat, convinced that Fogg is the thief that mastermind the bank robbery.

If you combined Colombo, Inspectors Clouseau and Poirot, Fix is the embodiment of the classic bumbling detective. He hides behind newspapers, peeks around corners and is, in general a royal pain in the arse. 

His goal is to stop Fogg at his own game, slow him down in anticipation of an arrest before he sets foot back on British soil. Unfortunately for him, as ‘twas not the case, he was outwitted by Fogg and company at every turn.
Cast of "Around The World in 80 Days"
One of the most interesting characters we meet up is Kamana Aouda in the person of Lovlee Carroll daughter of a wealthy merchant and recent widow.  In India, Fogg rescues her after a near death mishap and the two become traveling companions, which in turn puts a little zip in Foggs step. I’ll let you watch that one play out because Carroll is so convincing, and yes a bit coy as the sought after and beautiful Aouda.

Thanks to set designer Marty Burnett’s clever (a la ‘Laugh In’ type set) with the map of the world as a backdrop, drawers that pull out for various and sundry uses; a step up pyramid for the ship’s deck, 4 chairs for train travel, a chest with again, miscellaneous ‘stuff’ and in what is the most clever, two umbrellas representing elephant ears, doors leading to other doors for the coming and going of the various characters that come and go. Baird, for the most part, stays in character throughout.
Loren Lester (front) Will Vought, Omri Schein, Ruchard Baird and Lovlee Carroll
Holly Gillard’s props are exceptional and Kimberly DeShazo’ costumes are worth noting for their (for lack of a better word) flexibility and originality. Dave Mickey’s sound design gives credence to the type of travel, say fog horn, train whistle, etc., and Matt Novotny’s lighting puts everything into perspective.

Allison Bibicoff’s hits all the right strides with enough mystery to have you shaking your collective heads on the way out wondering how they managed to make it all come together and finish their game of whist at the end of 80 days.

NCR’s “Around The World in 80 Days” is a whimsical, theatrical, magical, capricious, playful, you name it, romp. It’s well worth the trip to Solana Beach. Enjoy.

“Oh! The places you’ll GO! You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high flyers who soar to great heights!” You will be traveling to Mongolia, Hong Kong, Bombay, Calcutta, the Suez Canal and Egypt, Singapore, Yokohama, the American West and New York. (Dr. Seuss)

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 4th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type:
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive Suite D
Ticket Prices: Start at $42.00

Photo: Aaron Rumley