Wednesday, May 23, 2018

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” Shine on Old Globe Production.

The African proverb “It takes a Village” caused quite a stir in 1996 when former First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton published her book bearing the title “It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us”.

If we stretched the point, Khaled Hosseini’s (“The Kite Runner”) book “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma now in a spectacularly powerful stage production and West Coast premiere at The Old Globe Theatre through June 17th  bears out the village concept.   

Cast and musician composer David Coulter
Focusing on two generations of strong Afghani women, who in essence become the village necessary in raising each other and each other’s children, the effect and their combined unions are more than powerful; they are essential for their survival. 

Written in a time when foreign invaders from the Soviet Union had withdrawn from their country in 1992 to the takeover by the Islamic fundamentalist and repressive Taliban in 1996 to 2001 when the United States came to their defense to now ISIS presenting itself as a strong military reality the people of Afghanistan and especially Hosseini’s strong women continue to show their resiliency, their hope for a brighter future and some real progress for the plight of Afghani women.

 Into this political hot box of changing governments and miserable hard times after relatively quiet times Hosseini introduces us to Miriam and Laila, ‘generational women for all seasons’.

L to R) Nadine Malouf, Denmo Ibraham and Nikita Tewani 
We first meet Laila  (an unfaltering Nadine Malouf) and her family. Father Babi (Joseph Kamal) is an intellectual who treasures his books especially his poetry books. Her mother Fariba (Lanna Joffrey) goes along with Babi but is short tempered as he cannot decide which books to leave behind and which to take as they are readying to leave Kabul for Pakistan. 

They are hoping for a more peaceful life when the sounds of bombs (Jake Roriguez) fill the air coming closer and closer to the family and finally landing close enough to strike the family. Both parents are killed. 

Set against gorgeous changing backgrounds by set designer Ken MacDonald with lighting by Robert Wierzel and haunting original music by David Coulter played on saw blades by Coulter reflects the times and moods as when the colors change from bright sunlight to blood stained images when Laila has to have a caesarian birth in a hospital ward without any morphine or anesthesia.

The pictures reflected follow Laila as she is rescued from the shock of being hit by a bomb to her neighbors Rasheed and Miriam’s (Haysam Kadri and Denmo Ibrahim) home.

Rasheed is a shoemaker and Miriam a housewife. Both help in her recovery, but Miriam is hoping Laila will leave soon.  Laila hopes family friends will let her stay with them, but Rasheed sabotages that dream.
(from top) Nadine Malouf as Laila and Denmo Ibraham as Miriam
 As fate will have it, Rasheed lusts over Laila. It’s only a mater of time that he discards Miriam since she cannot bear him a son or children for that mater, and takes Laila as his wife even though Laila has a beau, Tariq (Antoine Yared) is only fifteen and has her own dreams.

Miriam is having no part of it even though she has no say in it.  Her goal is to make life as impossible for Laila as her jealousy gets in the way of her seeing Laila as fellow traveler. Having been abused by Rasheed over the years, she might understand that kindness and compassion works better than revenge, but Hosseini saves that for later.

Life with Rasheed has been no honeymoon for either woman. Over the course of years and with the upbringing of Laila’s first born, Aziza (Nikita Tewani) the tension lessens and they learn to bond.
Nadine Malouf and Antoine Yared
They form a quiet coalition against Rasheed’s wrath and realize that together is easier than being divided over a man that has no regard for women. Things quiet down somewhat when Laila gives birth to a son Zalmai (Abraham German on opening night).

(I’m not sure if it’s too early in my remarks to acknowledge that Rasheed is a no-goodnick, but I’ll insert them here anyway.) Kadri’s performance is so true to form and so wonderfully executed as the bastard he plays says volumes about the wonderful actor he is, and that’s a fact.

Every time he whipped his wives with his belt, shivers went through me. Every time he found out about their wanting to leave, or in fact did sent shivers through me. Every time he raped his wife shivers went through me. Every time he pulled Miriam by the hair, sent shivers through me. When he sent Aziz off to an orphanage, shivers went through me.

With Carey Perloff ‘s deft direction and staging and Malouf and Ibrahim working together in productions at ACT and Theatre Calgary there is nothing unusual about the acknowledgements of the women’s sisterhood and resilience with the promise of peace in their lifetime.
Haysam Kadri and Nadine Malouf
A look, a shrug or a movement from one will trigger an action from the other that is as natural and unifying as I see between my three adult daughters good, bad or indifferent. One could not find better performances in this show even if one were looking.

The large cast is made up of many playing multiple roles including Lanna Joffrey who plays Fariba and Nana Miriam’s mother. Arden Pala shares the role of Zalmai with Abraham German. Antoine Yared, Kris Zarif and Jason Kapoor and Joseph Kamal, Leila’s father is seen later on as an interrogator.

The creative team includes costume designer Linda Cho and Stephen Buescher choreographs. It all comes together splendidly.

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.” (Saib-e- Tabrizi from his poem “Kabul”)

The thousand suns that shimmer over Afghanistan also shine in the hearts, minds and souls of Miriam and Laila. 

The times they are a changing.


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 17th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Drama
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92103
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
Photo: Jim Cox

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Moxie’s “The Madres” Opens Another Door Into ‘Man’s Inhumanity Toward Man’.

Moxie Theatre’s mission statement is “ to create more diverse and honest images of women for our culture using the intimate art of theatre. By producing works by female playwrights and giving special attention to plays that defy female stereotypes”.

Indeed, Moxie Theatre has scored a homerun with the telling of Stephanie Alison Walker’s “The Madres” now on stage through June 10th at their intimate space in Rolando.

It is a gut wrenching account of three generations of women caught in the crossfires of Argentina’s ‘dirty war” (State Terrorism) from 1974-1983 to (according to the authorities) weed out the liberals, subversives and strengthening ‘love of country’. To bring unity to the people…about becoming stronger and …more one.’ Another way of putting it would be forced conformity of the National Reorganization Process.

Sandra Ruiz and Maria Gonzalez
The war lasted seven years and in that time over 30,000 students disappeared in prisons (think ‘camps’) pregnant women were killed after childbirth and military families adopted their children.

“The (Las) Madres” were the first who refused to be silenced, the first to stand up and march, the first to demand justice and the first to speak the truth about their missing children.

They were the mothers, wearing white scarfs with their daughter’s names embroidered on them and marched every Thursday in front of the Casa Rosada to speak out about and demanding justice for their missing children mostly teenagers held captive by the military. Those missing were called “Desaparecida” or the disappeared.  

“The Madres” marks the first time Moxie has been distinguished by National New Play Network. It is now in a Rolling World Premiere that’s just custom made for the Moxies and fits neatly into their mission statement.

Set in Buenos Aires, Argentina 1979 in a modest flat (Alondra Vélez) Carolina (Sandra Ruiz) and her mother Josefina (Maria Gonzaléz) await the return of Carolina’s pregnant daughter and Josefina’s granddaughter, whom they both suspect is one of the Desaparecida’s or disappeared.
Markuz Rodrigez
Carolina is out this Thursday marching when Padre Juan (John Padilla) pays a visit to check up on the family and in particular his old friend Josefina. They have not seen each other in five years. 

Small talk ensues when we finally learn that the Padre is here for information and a warning. Unspoken of course, but intimidating nonetheless the conversation turns to Carolina and Las Madres and her granddaughter Belén (Laura Jimenez).  

Following that visit, Belén’s longtime school friend, Diego (a smug and self- righteous Marquz Rodrigez), now a well trained, but young and naïve soldier, makes a house call that on the surface seems friendly enough, but ratchets up the anti with questions about Belén; her whereabouts and reminders that what is happening in their country right now is for the best.

Co directors Maria Patrice Amon and Jen Eve Thorn, together with a well balanced cast of strong, resilient yet vulnerable women telling their story from their own perspective as they play a cat and mouse game with the men in their lives that dominate them.
Maria Gonzalez and Sandra Ruiz
Maria Gonzaléz’ Josefina is as convincing a grandmother as one could expect under the circumstances. Afraid to make anyone angry that her granddaughter might be harmed, she soft shoes around answering questions.

She also worries about both her daughter and granddaughter as she busies herself as a seamstress along with her keeping house and baking favorite pastries’ and offering them to each visitor.

 Looking rather fragile, she is the pretty much the soldier if you will, on the front lines who redirects any flack away from both daughter and granddaughter. Her ‘story’ is that Belén has left for France and she’s sticking to it. 

Talented, persuasive and versatile Sandra Ruiz plays Carolina with the intensity of a mother hen surrounding the wagons looking out for her offspring. She goes out every Thursday and marches worrying her mother Josefina.
Markuz Rodrigez and John Padilla 
Their interplay is interesting to watch as both struggle to gain the high ground regarding Carolina’s activities.  When the conversation bounces back to Belén its enough to break your heart knowing that, yes, she can march but she still doesn’t know if her daughter is alive or dead.

John Padilla is perfect as Padre Juan another victim caught in the crosshairs between offering counseling to those in need and satisfying the repressive government demands to get information and bring it back to the authorities.

Looking troubled and pleased at the same time as when his good friend Josefina reminds him of their past friendship and suggesting a romance there somewhare. Unfortunately he offers nothing to the outcome of the crisis. His is a no win situation almost a tease for us to expect some form of help from the clergy.

There are a few light moments in Act II when Josefina convinces Carolina to throw a baby shower for Belén thinking that that may be the only way to know if the girl is still alive is to invite all their friends. Both Padre and Diego show up and play some party games, both looking silly.

But when Diego brings Desaparecida through the door of Carolina’s house, a hush falls over the theatre as Laura Jimenez, ready to drop her baby any minute and looking as if her face hadn’t seen the sun in months, walks through to the living room and just about collapses.
If you can read body language, which you will, you will know that all is not as is it is looks be under the glaring eyes of Diego. 

Creative support comes from costume designer Danita Lee, Alex Crocker-Larkness, lighting, Haley Wolf, sound and of course Brava to Playwright Stephanie Alison Walker for educating so many of us in this revealing and mind blowing experience.

The Madres is just one of many revealing looks into ‘Man’s inhumanity toward man’.

"There is only one way in which one can endure man's inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one's own life, to exemplify man's humanity to man." Alan Paton

Bring tissues.
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 10th
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Phone: 1-858-598-7620
Production Type: Drama
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Suite N San Diego, CA. 92115
Ticket Prices: Start at $36.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Sunday, May 6, 2018

“Yakety Yak”: It’s Leiber and Stoller At OnStage

Jerry Leiber grew up on the ‘edge of Baltimore’s black ghetto. Mike Stoller was raised in Queens, learning the ‘basics of blues and boogie woogie from African-American kids at summer camp’ (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum). The two meet in Los Angeles in 1950.

Their mutual love of boogie-woogie and rhythm and blues resulted in an immediate bond and they began writing. Both were 17 at the time. Liber was the lyricist, Stoller wrote the music (he took piano lessons from Fats Waller’s mentor).

In 1953 they formed their own label, Spark, which later became the Coasters. That same year, they released "Riot in Cell Block #9" and owned their own label because Atlantic Records later signed them to the industry's first independent production deal.

Not too bad for a couple of kids just getting their musical feet off the ground. Ultimately, they became one of the most influential songwriting teams in rock and roll history. (Smokey Joe’s Café official site)  

For those of you who think you might never have heard of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller you might recognize some of their music: Hound Dog". Oh, you thought Elvis write that one? Nope.  Stand By Me”, or “There Goes My Baby”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Fools Fall in Love”, “Yakety Yak”, "Poison Ivy",  “Kansas City”, “On Broadway”, “Charlie Brown”, “Love Potion #9”,  “Spanish Harlem”, (Leiber and Phil Spector) “Dance with Me”, “Buy Me A Ticket On The B&O” (been there done that) and I could go on and on. A composite of many of their popular and not so popular numbers; 37 in all, are showcased in  “Smokey Joe’s Café.” Now showing at OnStage Theatre through April 9th.

It is a musical tribute to Leiber and Stoller, and has been on the musical theatre circuit now for years. It’s an enjoyable celebration of their works, and a pretty lively one at that.  Since there is no book per se the music (and dancing) is non stop as the Tony Award winning (1995) show is held together solely by the music.
(L To R) Reggie Hutchins, Raymond Stradford III, Emma Rose Tarr, Kyle Leatherbury, Dominque Dates, Alexander Salazar-Dunbar Shirley Johnston and Jake Strohl
There are nine cast members, four guys and five gals all with strong voices and very distinct personalities. Three mesh curtains are suspended from the ceiling  and are used for accents and background looks. The set is pretty simple giving the group room to easily move, dance and pair off. (Terri Brown and Chad Oakley)

The band is off to the side and when you want to catch sight of their musicianship, a look over will do, the sound speaks for itself.  The cast is casually dressed in 50’s outfits (Pam Stomply-Ericson) and they begin the show with the number “Neighborhood”a little ditty down memory lane for a look back at the old neighborhood.

From there the show takes off with each cast member pairing up with other cast members to go through the selection of songs, related or unrelated but certainly some that you can remember from your own growing up in the 50’ and 60’s days, or am I being presumptuous?
Jake Strohl and Emma Rose Tarr
Not to belabor a point, however, whether you are a product of the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s you will recognize more of these songs than you think. Those were the days my friends when you could understand all the words and most of them had a special meaning: Love lost; love regained; love learned; foolish love and some just plain silly.

The revue is an entertaining diversion and OnStage pays it a lovely compliment with a capable cast including Dominique Dates, Reggie Hutchins, Shirley Johnston, Kyle Leatherbury, Belinda Pickens, Alexander Salazar-Dunbar, Raymond Stradfored III, Jake Strohl and Emma Rose Tarr.

Together and oft times solo they sing blues, rock‘n roll, jazz, rhythm and blues, pop and cabaret style.  In other words, they do it all. The cast is a bit uneven with most of its strengths lying in the ensemble, with few standout solo numbers.

One that rocked the house “I Am Woman” with Belinda, Dominique, Emma Rose and Shirley. But when Emma Rose broke out with “Teach Me How To Shimmy” the guys were almost out of their chairs.
Dominique, Emma Rose, Belinda and Shirley Johnston 
Two caught my attention: Reggie and Shirley’s “Spanish Harlem” (one of my all time favorites). Reggie’s rendition of the song is especially appealing and continues with a seductive dance number with Shirley Johnston who choreographed as well as directed adding to the piece. The other, Kyle Leatherbury’s “I Who Have Nothing” was definitely a showstopper.    

Musical director Michelle Gray (A chip off the old block, she is Justin Gray’s daughter.) the show hummed along gathering momentum in the second act, when the stage has cabaret tables and chairs and the cast is paired off. Yes, they had us clapping and even swaying to the music.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the excellent musicians, all young folks but with a passion for playing: Sean Collins on Bass, Michelle Gray on Keyboards 1, Chans Valdez on Keyboards 2, Nikko Nobleza on Guitar, Raynald Marte on Drums, Alvin Paige on Sax.

Chloe Clark’s lighting took center stage on most numbers and Dania Cisneros and Julian Sink’s sound design was a bit muffled on some of the numbers, yet worked well on others.

By now all kinks will be worked out and Leiber and Stoller’s music will be a boon to all those claiming to know the words and the tunes of so many of their works, but not the composers. For yours truly it was a splendid trip down memory lane.

Dates: Through June 9th
Organization: OnStage Playhouse
Phone: 619-422-7787
Production Type: Musical Revue
Where: 291 Third Ave., Chula Vista, CA 91912
Ticket Prices: $25.00
Photo: Adriana Zuniga-Williams