Monday, April 23, 2018

WOW Series Continues In Riveting “What Happens Next”

In the past month or so yours truly has seeen more than one play having to do with dealing with war and its aftermath: “Vietgone” and “Cambodian Rock Band”.

In each play the survivor(s) never reveal the atrocities they saw or underwent until forced either by time and/or family. In each of these cases the survivors of these wars were forced to come face to face with their past.

Since 2009 The La Jolla Playhouse features a signature program Without Walls (WOW) that is designed to take audiences out of the conventional trappings of traditional theatre and present theatre at an on site location or several locations, depending on the nature of the work.

Cast of "What Happens Next"
For this years WOW program, the Playhouse commissioned well respected and award winning playwright Naomi Iizuka, who heads the UC San Diego MFA Playwriting Program to pen a piece based on her years of interviewing veterans and their families, to visiting clinics and ‘learned their struggles’.

Some were willing to share, ‘some voices stuck with her’, some resonated over the months and both history and stories started to take shape and what they saw while on their many deployments in either Iraq and Afghanistan and became the backbone of her new play.

Teaming up with The Cornerstone Theatre Company and its director Michael John Garc├ęs, several of its ensemble members, most veterans of these latest ‘wars’ in the Middle East’ can be seen acting in Ms. Iizuka’s latest world premiere play “What Happens Next?” at the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

It is a 100 or so minute exercise, or what might be called play acting, or coming face to face with who you really are, what you want others to know about you and how we see each other. Call it what you will, going through the paces looked to be therapeutic as many of those closed off to any form of suggestion, came around. 
Bruce A. Lemon, JR, Nico Marcolongo, Judy Bauerlein and Kionte Storey
Grueling and repetitive exercise with many moving parts as each of the participants acts out a scenario put forth to them by ‘Bonnie’ (Hannah Logan) their group leader.

Some therapy is in the form of games, some in just staring into another’s eyes and some moving around, changing seats or letting the anger out and or sharing.

The audience is seated in a large circle facing the group of veterans who are also in a smaller circle, within touching distance of each other. Some are looking away from the circle, others staring out into space, others moving in nervous anticipation of what’s to come ‘next’.

As an audience member I felt as if I could be drawn into the discussion at any minute. According to Iizuka ‘the audience becomes a kind of character in the play”.

Isles are left open for anyone wanting to leave the discussion which some did, but came back into the group shortly thereafter.

(L To R) Bruce A. Lemon, JR. Nick Borelli, Nico Marcolongo and Francisco Martinezcuello
The players include both ex military and actors of the Cornerstone Theatre Company.

Nick Borelli served six years in the Marines as an Infantry Officer. He was agreeable most of the time to participate in the exercises but shared his character (or?) was struggling with alcohol.  

Nico Marcolongo was a veteran of the Iraq conflict who served 14 years as a Marine Officer, he plays Frank with affable willingness to help facilitate, and Francisco Martinezcuello is a writer and a retired Marine. Francisco plays Mike as rather shy and reserved but goes along with the group. One of his amusing sharing was that he used to be a magician.

Actor Judy Bauerlein plays Tina a trauma nurse. She’s an unwilling participant and when you do hear her story as a trauma room nurse you will understand why she finds it so difficult to share it. I have to confess, I teared up when she told it.  

Bruce A. Lemon, JR is an artistic associate playing a quarrelsome Karl who, in the beginning refuses to participate. In fact each of the actors has his or her share of anger almost to the point of physical contact. Most of the angry outbursts are verbal but yours truly half expected some fisticuffs. 

Kionte Storey served in the Marines after high school and was deployed twice, once to Haditha later to Afghanistan where he stepped on I.E.D and lost his leg from the knee down. He came in later during an exercise where each was pretending to be something that would end up as a collage in a story-telling pantomime.

Local actor Hannah Logan (perfect for the role of Bonnie the facilitator) had the almost impossible job of leading this group.
Hannah Logan with cast
In her role as the facilitator her experience in the field as an actor, who had small parts in some TV show, was almost zero to none but she managed to pull it off. In real life Logan is a director and teaching actress.

Popping in with cookies, real life Blue Star Mother, Jeannie McFarling encourages Bonnie (Hannah) to stick with the program since what she is doing is for the good of everyone, including herself. 

From an outsiders look in, all involved were in a learning curve.  I’ll take their word for it, it all felt very authentic to me and my heart was heavy when I left the theatre. 

Over the course of watching the angst and pain of being and witnessing such destruction as few have ever see, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to tell.

On another note if the old men in our government had to send their own sons and daughters into harms way, they might think twice about it.  

“Older men declare war. But it’s the youth that must fight and die.” Herbert Hoover.   

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through April 29th
Organization: La Jolla Playhouse
Phone: 858-550-1010
Production Type: Drama (WOW Series)
Where: 9591 Waples Street, San Diego
Ticket Prices: $20.00
Venue: Challenged Athletes Foundation
Photo: Jim Carmody

Saturday, April 21, 2018

“How The Other Half Loves”~ And Lies In Alan Ayckbourn's Drawing Room Comedy

Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s 1969 drawing room comedy “How The Other Half Loves” now playing at North Coast Repertory Theatre through May 13th, weaves its way through the loves, lies and lives of three couples where the bosses wife of one is having an affair with the husband one of his employees, and for reasons you will learn as this disaster grows, a third couple is dragged into their mess just for cover.  
James Newcomb and Jacquelyn Ritz
Now there’s nothing unusual about husbands and wives cheating, getting even, blaming others for their woes, having affairs with the bosses’ wife, and unruly kids but Ayckbourn takes it to extremes to ferret out suspicions and infidelity by using sex and status as a means to an end.  

In the meantime, the audience is treated to some mind whirling excuses; innuendos and half -truths, (or half lies) in the untangling of these messed up couples. 
Christopher M. Williams and Sharon Rietkerk
Ayckbourn’s dealings in ordinary matters become extraordinary when the cleverness in his staging turns the so- called affair of who said what and where into what feels like farce by the time the dinner scene unfolds.

The setup is more fun to watch than to discover how who learns what between these sets of characters, in a play that is rife with chauvinistic references and bully tactics, but its clever to watch it all unfold none-the –less.
Noelle Marion and Benjamin Cole
With spot on directing by Geoffrey Sherman, a well choreographed cast and a very clever set by Marty Burnett (as directed in notes by the playwright), both homes share the same space but have separate overlapping living rooms, dining rooms with all the actions (comings and goings) taking place simultaneously. It’s almost like being stuck in a revolving door and seeing the same people going around in another revolving door.   

Frank Foster and his wife Fiona (James Newcomb and Jacquelyn Ritz) are what some might refer to as London’s upper-middle class. Their living spaces have current period furniture with polished veneers and well appointed in browns and tan colors. She serves meals on a tray, and her hardcore politeness comes in sugarcoated packages that can easily pass as sincere.

Frank owns his own company, which is almost hard to believe since he is a master blunderer who doesn’t really pay attention. He tends to go off on tangents, mumbles and for the most part doesn’t see what’s right under his nose.

Fiona, on the other hand, knows just how to handle her bumbling husband; gently and with a knowing hand she plays right into his idiosyncrasies. Both Newcomb and Ritz are a perfect fit.
Bob Phillips and his wife Teresa (Christopher M. Williams and Sharon Rietkerk) are the complete opposite. He works for Frank and if one could describe his personality, it might read ego centric, caustic and indifferent to his wife’s needs especially with help raising their infant son. But when they love make, its passionate.

Their place is shabby and worn looking in need of some fresh paint. When she makes coffee it’s for one, herself. When she makes him a bite to eat she tosses it at him in sandwich form.

Teresa finds time in her day tending or not their (not seen) son Benjamin, and cutting out clippings from the Guardian and writing angry letters back. On first encounter one might get the idea that she too is indifferent, but watch out for that passive aggressive and raucous personality of hers. Both Williams and Rietkerk play beautifully against each other as well.
James Newcomb, Noelle Marian, Sharon Rietkirk, Benjamin Cole, Jacquelyn Ritz and Christopher M. Williams (foreground) 
William and Mary Featherstone (Benjamin Cole and Noelle Marion) are the frosting on the cake couple whose marriage might look conventional but is anything but. He’s a bully, she dull and neurotic at first sight. She bites her nails and he slaps her hands and makes sure everyone knows how much work he puts into their marriage.

William is the new transferee to Bob Phillips’ accounting department; it’s a promotion for him. What we know about his neurotic wife is sketchy and when we first meet her some serious behavior questions surface. Both Cole and Marion make this little farce complete in an unexpected turn about, that some might call fair play.    

Bob and Fiona use what little cover they have for an alibi for their liaison to bring the Featherstone’s, William and Mary, into the equation by indicating that their marriage was in trouble. 

Both couples invent a story about the Featherstone’s and then invite them to a dinner party on successive nights to smooth things over. What we see might be a scene out of Albee’s “Virginia Woolf” but not quite as deadly.
Noelle Marion, Sharon Rietkerk, Benjamine Cole and Christopher M. Williams
In a smartly orchestrated turn of events the couples sit down for dinner at the same table and on alternative nights, sharing a meal with their hosts, concurrently. With a small half -degree turn of a chair they are in the Fosters and in another turn they are eating something unrecognizable at the Phillips. You can imagine that nothing goes right on either night, but that’s not the best of it.   

It’s all in the timing and for the record its spot on and eye popping fun aided by Matt Novotny’s lighting design, Elsa Benzoni’s accurate 60’s dress look, Aaron Rumley sound design and Holly Gillard’s props and for a second shout out Marty Burnett’s dual personality set design.

If the other half of the other halves love, as the title implies they do, heaven help us.


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through May 13th
Organization: North Coast Rep.
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe drive, Ste. D Solana Beach, CA 92075
Ticket Prices: Start at$ 49.00
Photo: Aaron Rumley

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

“The Wanderers” In An Outstanding And Polished World Premiere at Old Globe

One letter separates wanderer from wonderer. Imagine the wonders the Jews found wandering in the desert for 40 years after fleeing Egypt? Imagine now the wonders of traveling a world closed off to you while only knowing a cloistered one?

Imagine the wonders of seeing your own words in book form and finding praise in those words? Imagine wandering through the recesses of you mind seeking meaning to all that you hold true and not always finding the answers?
Ali Rose Dachis and Dave Klasko (background)
Playwright Anna Ziegler’s new work, “The Wanderers” was commissioned by The Old Globe and is sensitively directed by artistic director Barry Edelstein.  “The Wanderers” will be playing through May 6th and if we are lucky it will be extended. 

Edelstein was anxious to have the playwright back for a command performance after her “The Last Match” impressed him a few years ago.  Both playwright and director have shared memories of living in the Williamsburg community and can relate to the population living there now.

When two worlds collide as do the ones in “The Wanderers” we the audience are privileged to see how the other side lives, and even in grave conflict come together and almost become one.
Daniel Eric Gold and Michelle Beck
The connectedness is mind boggling as the two couples drift through their marriages, both doomed to cause heartache and pain, as handed down from generation to generation (L’dor V’dor), but still forge ahead wondering what the future holds for them.

L’chi Lach to a land that I will show you
Leich L’cha to a place you do not know –
Debbie Friedman
Esther and Schmuli (Ali Rose Dachis and David Klasko both excellent) are ultra orthodox Jews from the Satmar Hasidic group. Their marriage was an arranged one. She is young and inquisitive.

She wants to read secular literature, listen to the radio and get a job outside the house, perhaps in a library; he’s shy, stubborn and goes by the book and does whatever his father says. Anything going on outside their little village of Monsey is verboten like FM radio and secular books and in particular work outside the home.  
Daniel Eric Gold and Janie Brookshire
In Brooklyn Sophie and Abe (Michelle Beck and Daniel Eric Gold are perfect protagonists), have known each other all their lives. They grew up together and their mothers, Hasidic Jews living in Williamsburg when both were children, expected they would one day marry and they did. “I was seventeen when I realized I was going to marry Abe.” “Soph and I met before memory.”

Abe is Jewish and Sophie is half Jewish and half African-American. Both are writers. Abe is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, Sophie is struggling to keep up but the interest in her work is short lived and she’s more than frustrated. They have two children and Abe insists they be brought up Jewish, ‘because that’s what Jews do’.

At the core of Ziegler’s “The Wanderers” are two couples living out two different, yet very similar stories that run along parallel tracks in different times. One is hostage to an orthodox community that has a strangle hold on them.
Dave Klasko and Ali Rose Dachis
The other is hostage to Abe’s upbringing as a Jewish son. He’s living a modern yet modest lifestyle with his writer wife with all the neurosis instilled in him as a child yet with a strong Jewish identity. (Think guilt as one) They play off each other, but Sophie is the stronger and even though Abe is the more successful their marriage is suffering from indifference.

As captives of their environment Esther and Schmuli walk a tightrope. One step outside their little bubble community and their lives go topsy-turvy. When we meet them, they are celebrating their marriage that, we learn happened just that day.

On the other hand, Sophie and Abe, the writers, are already in a strained marriage. Abe is moving along in his career so much so that book tours and interviews often take him away from home.
Janie Brookshire and Daniel Eric Gold
On one such an occasion he meets up with Julia Cheever (Jane Bookshire) a beautiful movie star with whom he begins an on line yet uncomfortable relationship. The incident is based on a New York Times- published email correspondence between Natalie Portman and Jonathan Safran Foer in 2016. 

The characters are true to life, funny, serious three-dimensional and absolutely believable. The interactions between Ali Rose Dachis’ Esther and Dave Klasko’s Schmuli are almost out of Chaim Potock’s “The Chosen” with clothes (David Israel Reynoso) to match.  Their conversations and mannerisms ring so true and Klasko’s speech patterns, thanks to dialect coach David Huber, are spot on.   

Beck’s Sophie is strong and grounded while Gold’s Abe can be charming and loving, yet he chooses to ignore all the warning signs that his marriage is in trouble especially as he continues to carry on his ‘letter writing’ campaign with the more that willing Julia. Janie Brookshire is the stunning actress who shares more about her life that pulls him deeper and deeper, but hey, that’s the carrot.
Cast od "The Wanderers"
A very long and rather narrow table with about four chairs around is the centerpiece of the set (Marion Williams) that is put to use for every occasion. Projections are written on the tables as ‘chapters’. Stacks of books surround the stage, bits of snowflakes fall and neon lights light up in strips on the floor on occasion. (Amanda Zieve). In it’s simplicity, it speaks volumes.  

“The Wanderers” is funny and somber, poetic and whimsical, thought provoking and wise, tragic and celebratory with very convincing acting; just about everything one would want to see in a play, new or otherwise, including some ah ha revelations that will open miles of conversation on the way home.

Hats off to Ms. Ziegler, The Old Globe and director Edelstein. May they wander this path more often, open more doors and leave more questions unanswered than answered.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through May 6th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-232-5623
Production Type: Drama
Where: 11363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Jim Cox