Friday, March 29, 2019

“Angels In America” Part Two: Perestroika As Good As It Gets At Cygnet.

If Roy Cohn, the self -loathing son of a bitch, no good-nick Jew left this world rotting away from AIDS with only a small audience to witness it, he certainly deserved it. He also deserved to die alone but fortunately for him, Jewish law forbids it.

Cohn, one of the major figures in Tony Kushner’s “Angels In America A Gay Fantasia”, Part I The ‘Millennium Approaches’ and Part Two ‘Perestroika”, resurfaces after the ending of Part One where he is again in his hospital bed on death’s door begging his nemeses, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg to sing him a lullaby. The scene is about as funny as it is tragic.
Rosina Reynolds and James Newcomb
Cygnet Theatre in Old Town is now on the second round of Kushner’s two part stunning epic work with the building of ‘Perestroika’, sometimes seen on it’s own and sometimes, depending on one’s endurance (running time for both plays together is about 6 hours, give or take), seen in repertory in one long afternoon/evening of theatre which by the way, yours truly has done twice.  

Part two of the epic drama that is both funny and tragic, continues with the same characters  we met in Part One: Cohn, big shot and evil Washington lawyer, gay Mormon Lawyer Joe Pitt and his wife Harper, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, Cohn’s nurse Belize, Joe’s mother Hannah, entertainer/ free agent Prior Walter and his ex boyfriend Louis and the prophetic Angel whom we met at the end of Part One.

In Part One, the big focus is concentrated on the rise of the AIDS epidemic during the Reagan years, the McCarthy hearings and a world in chaos; deeply divided by race, religion, sexual priorities, politics and more politics. It is chillingly similar to today’s unrest.  

 In Part One we watched as two couples, Joe and Harper and Louis and Prior danced around each other trying to be good mates but Joe was a closeted homosexual, Harper was agoraphobic. When Prior was diagnosed with the HIV virus, Louis headed for the door and Prior was left to face the music with his deadly disease alone.

Cohn is a closeted gay yet successful lawyer who saw right through Joe Pitt. Pitt refused Cohn’s offer to advance his career but in Part Two we find him hooking up with Louis, Prior’s ex.  Cohn singlehandedly was responsible for the deaths of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg; he wanted them dead! He was one of Trump’s despicable’s. Yes, he taught Trump well.
Rachael VanWormer
Harper is out on a limb with her fears. She and Joe play hide and seek at pretending to be married and Belize toggles back and forth as nurse/travel agent.

In flashback the Angel all but anoints Prior as a Prophet, gives him a sacred book, a prophecy; “Greetings, Prophet! The great work begins: The Messenger has arrived.”
Debra Wanger as the Angel and Alex Bodine
‘Perestroika’ opens in 1986 with the worlds oldest Bolshevik (Rosina Reynolds), asking,  “Are we doomed?” “Will the past release us?” “Can we change?” “In time?” Or, can the world survive without communism?

Of course it can and does and the play continues on its poetic path once again moving forward with the playwright showing a more humane, honest, in depth and healing side of the characters. In essence he is saying stop being too proud to be humble. Stop changing/breaking the rules and listen. Listen, see, heal. God is pretty angry by societies lack of interest.

It expands even more with a brief and funny diorama of the Mormon’s ‘coming west’, a bonding between Prior and Hannah, Joe’s Mormon mother and oddly, a relationship between Joe and Louis, Prior’s former lover.

Five years pass to the fall of the Berlin Wall where we catch up with Prior, Louis, Belize and Hannah. They are upbeat and look to a future where the Prophet Prior proclaims, “The disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.” 

No one ever accused the movers and shakers of Cygnet Theatre Co. of being slackers. This mammoth undertaking under the deft direction of Sean Murray is a stirring homage to what excellent theatre is all about, past present and future with a must a must see approval rating.

James Newcomb’s portrayal of Roy Cohn, that was electrifying in part one is even more riveting in part two. Every time he calls for his nurse Belize (Kevane La’Marr Coleman) or is in some kind of a dastardly rant or is making racial slurs against Belize the atmosphere in the theatre seemed to take on a life of its own. His command performance is striking.

Rosina Reynolds’ Ethel seems even eerier and more haunting as she stands over Cohn just watching him; staring in silence and finally stepping in to help Louis with the Kaddish (mourners prayer) when Cohn finally succumbs to AIDS. It was more than he deserved.

Connor Sullivan’s Joe Pitt digs deeper into his groins and comes out a force with which to be reckoned after finally giving in to his homosexual needs by hooking up with Louis, ironically only to be rejected by him.

Wil Bethmann, Rosina Reynolds and Kevane La'Maar Coleman
Louis (Wil Bethmann) gradually finds his big boy mensch suit, Jewish guilt and all and as such becomes a worthy soul mate to Prior. In a turn about of fair play, Prior picks and chooses how much of Louis’ help he really wants and Reynolds’ Hannah Pitt has softened somewhat toward her gay son, unlike her stealth portrayal as Ethel Rosenberg.

Both VanWormer and Coleman, who meet up again under unusual circumstances, revive their excellent roles as Harper and Belize. Coleman’s sassy attitude as Cohn’s nurse just about turned the SOB ballistic when he was giving Cohn an intravenous pain killer but calmed down when he threatened with the sharp needle.

Debora Wanger whose appearance at the end of part that was a divine revelation, has plenty to say in part two and she does it with elegance and a force that sends Prior (a brilliant Alex Bodine) as the messenger, into the world to do some super human healing of Biblical proportions and there are many.

References to that effect between Louis and the Rabbi, Jacob’s wrestling the angel, The Book of Isaiah and the mark of Cain come often, and Joseph Smith and the word of the Angels, also surfaces in conversation. References come in many tones and voices.

 Hebrew letters can be seen cascading downward onto the large brick wall in the background (Blake McCarthy’s projections on Andrew Hull’s geometric set design illuminated by Chris Rynnes’ spot on lighting design.

To Murray’s credit two -strong- armed yet silent partners dressed in white (Shirley Pierson) lift and move the angel around as if flying, given that there is no fly space to have her actually do that. With Steven Leffue’s effective sound design, the angels’ wings can be heard flapping, as they move her from place to place keeping a watchful eye on Prior.  

Every scene captured my imagination and never a doubtful thought entered my mind that the message, whoever the messenger, no matter from whence it comes, comes in equal parts over and over again throughout the bible and lest we forget, and God knows we do, no one wants His/Her wrath to be cast upon us.

Hannah: “When the Millennium comes…
Prior: “Not the year two - thousand, but the Capital’M’ Millennium”…
Hanna: “the fountain of Bethesda (in Central Park) will flow again.
And I told him I would personally take him there to bathe. We will bathe ourselves clean.”

For all of Kushner’s preaching about politics and religion, Perestroika and  Gorbochov, the now defunct Soviet Union, The West Bank, Palestine, Zionism, justice and responsibility, and  AIDS, I can’t help but thinking that the more things change the more they say the same.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Rotating in repertory Part One, 7p.m Wed. -through Fridays; 1 and 7 p.m. Sat. and Sundays through April 20th
Organization: Cygnet Theatre
Phone: 619-337-1525
Production Type: Drama
Where: 4040 Twiggs St,
Ticket Prices: $25.00-$60.00
Venue: Theatre in Old Town
Photo: Darren Scott

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

OnStage Playhouse Switches Channels With “Bullshot Crummond”

Following on the heels of OnStage Playhouse’s excellent and emotionally riveting production of Terrence McNally’s 1987 “Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune”, the powers that be have made a one-hundred and eighty degree turn with and old (read dated) off the wall crazy (read insane) ‘adventure romp’ called “Bullshot Crummond”

It took five, count them; Ron House, Alan Sherman, Diz White, John Neville Andrews, and Derek Cunningham to come up with this high energy nonsensical parody/pulp fiction frolic based on an idea by Ron House and Ditz White.

Jeff Hillman and Astrid Pett
Program notes tell us that the 1933 play was scheduled to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock as an international adventure thriller called “Bulldog Drummond Baby” base on the pulp fiction novels by H.C. McNeile. But the rights were denied because it was felt Hitchcock could not make a good enough film.  

Hitchcock went on to rewrite it as “The Man Who Knew Too Much”(1934). That story ultimately became one of the most successful films of his early career.

Trying to make any sense of this particular gobbledygook will require more than the large magnifying glass Sherlock Holmes carries around. This little ditty takes the audience on what might resemble 'The Mad Hatter’s Ride' at Disneyland.

But for s****and giggles lets go!

Bad guys Van Brunno ‘the second most dangerous man in Europe’ and his mate in crime Lanya Van Brunno are on a quest to kidnap professor Rupert Fenton. He’s the mad cap (think ‘Nutty Professor’) who invented the formula for a synthetic diamond. They want the formula so they can take over the international diamond market. Both actors embrace their characters and look like they are having the most fun.

Joshua Kent and Katelyn Slater
To start off this loong tale (the show has a needless intermission) the Van Brunno’s plane crashes down in England while on route to find the good professor, silence him, do whatever it takes to get the formula. They arrive bringing danger for everyone concerned. It (danger) lurks around every bush, corner, rock and crevice. 

They plunge and plunder ahead!

But getting from point A, the plane crash to point B, where all’s well that ends well for the ‘good guys’, “(Typical Bolshevik coward. Running when he’s beaten.”) we have to follow the comings and goings of a clueless detective, “Bullshot” Crummond, a crazy car chase scene that is a barrel of fun to watch, (director Paul Morgavo got that one right), a sword fight, a damsel in distress, faster than the eye can see costume changes with actors playing more than one role, a pet (puppet) falcon named Fritz who kills a carrier pigeon carrying an important message… and I could go on, but no need.
Jeff Hillman and Astrid Pett
Joshua Kent and Katelyn Slater

 OnStage and Morgavo can boast of a fine young cast including a host of typical minor characters played by Russell Clements, (Algy, a friend of Crummonds, the country policeman, a waiter, an inspector, and Von Brunno’s henchman Marovitch).

 All do yeoman’s work especially with Lisa Burgess’ period costume changes on set designer Duane McGregor’s versatile for fast appearances and disappearances, set. The entire ensemble deserves kudos for their energetic and full throttled participation.

Joshua Kent and Jeff Hellman
No credit for projections but Mio Rose’s lighting design makes the world of difference in this slightly out of the dark into the sometimes, lightweight production.

Rosemary Fenton as the damsel in distress is smart enough to fool Crummond and sly enough to help him without taking credit. She’s the Professor’s daughter and one had to wonder which of the two had the brains? Astrid Pett seems well suited as Ms. Fenton, going along with any of Crummond's chauvinistic rhetoric.

Russell Clements and Jeff Hillman
 Hugh”Bullshot” Crummond, (Jeff Hillman) thinks of himself as a ‘dashing young daredevil’ and looks danger in the eye as if it’s fun and games. He is perfect as the big suave, (“I smell intrigue”) no clue Crummond, whose sexist, male superior attitudes and talking points give serious thought as to how far we’ve not come since the 30’s.

If you are up to some farce, good, bad or indifferent, as some in the audience were, have a go at it. It might just tickle your funny bone. 

For yours truly, I’ll take Hitchcock (except “The Birds”) anytime.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through April 20th
Organization: OnStage Playhouse
Phone: 619-442-7787
Production Type: Comedy/Farce
Where: 291 Third Avenue, ChulaVista, CA 91912
Ticket Prices: $22.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

‘Willkomen’ To The “Cabaret” at Coronado Playhouse

If you notice that there is a phone at the table you have been assigned in the cabaret (Kit Kat Klub) seating setting at Coronado Playhouse in Coronado, be prepared to hear one of several voices on the other end inviting you for a drink? A one-night stand?  A secret rendezvous or all of the above? Because ‘what good is sitting alone in your room…?” (“Telephone Song”)

Coronado playhouse is at it again with another hot ticket production of “Cabaret” in their intimate space through April 28th. Winner of eight Tony’s in 1966, eight Oscar’s in 1977. The musical has been tweaked a few times to fit the times and in 1988 a reimaged production by The Roundabout Theatre where it added four more Tony’s to its collection.

Sarah Alida LeClair and Kit Kat Gals
Kander and Ebbs’ musical “Cabaret” is based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1929 book “Berlin Stories”. They recount his experiences in Germany. To that he wrote, “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking”.

It is here he meets Englishwoman, talented but lost soul Sally Bowles now living her life wrapped in drugs, alcohol and meaningless relationships in the waning years of Germany’s downfall before the rise of Hitler and his henchmen.

In 1951 John von Druten wrote his play “I Am A Camera” starring Julie Harris, which later went on to Broadway and after that Harris stared in the film version of the same name.  
Hunter Brown and Sarah Alida LaClair
The big Hollywood musical having Sally Bowles fit the now American image as an ex patriot and singing in a cabaret that, according to then director Hal Prince, becomes a metaphor for the declining Weimer Republic. It forever memorialized Liza Minnelli as the American Sally Bowles and Joel Grey as the Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub.

Sally Bowles (Sarah Alida Leclair: “Maybe This Time”) is still the main attraction around which this show revolves. Sally and her  romance, on again, off again with American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Gabriel Macedo) are central to the story. She’s eccentric, he’s in awe and naïve, but falls hard for her over time. In between his homosexual tendencies and their bouts of affection, their ill fated romance never develops into anything too serious. As time and events unravel he becomes reviled by her ignorance of what’s going on outside the doors of the Cabaret. 
Sarah Alida Clair as Sally Bowles
Underlying themes of gender bending, illicit sex, anti Semitism, nationalism and corruption are played out between the players, Fräulein Schneider and her Jewish amour, Herr Schultz, Cliff Bradshaw, Sally Bowles, Fräulein Kost (a beautifully voiced Deanna Cali), Ernst Ludwig and his German henchmen and the Kit Kat Girls and the omnipresent Emcee (charming Hunter Brown) dishing out doses of the story from the seedy Kit Kat Klub. (Chad Oakley)

Off in the distance Andrew Shane Walters’, an excellent Ernst Ludwig (“Tomorrow Belongs To Me”), brings the ‘axis of evil’ home by laundering money for the Nazi cause, a job for which he inlists the inexperienced Cliff Bradshaw, whose need for money far exceeded the reality of the Nazi’s closing in. (“Money”)

And by the time Emcee Brown sings “If You Could See Her” duet with the lady gorilla which ends with … she doesn’t look Jewish at all’, the dye is cast for the Kit Kat Boys and Girls, Herr Schultz and, in an emotional and completely unexpected finale, the Emcee himself becomes another casualty. (“I Don’t Care Much”)

Hunter Brown as the Emcee
The only thing there is not to like about the new and revised “Cabaret” is that it always ends the same. The Nazi’s take over the country, the Jews are rounded up and sent to concentration camps, the world has gone mad and wars are mounted on two continents.

But staging, directors and actors vary from production to production and on opening night, just as the performers were somewhat engaging, the overall production itself was uneven at best.

Director Julia Cuppy has assembled a large cast of boys and girls i.e. Kit Kat Klub as  they mingle with the guests before and during the show bringing in a more intimate atmosphere. When the show is in motion though, and at a fast pace, transitions from scene to scene are distracting and choppy interfering with the flow and continuity of the story.

Chad Oakley’s set with stairs on both sides of the stage offers Kit Kat’s a place to sing and watch the show as it happens and be ready  (if you will) for their next number. Four doors in the background are rooms for the renting with most of the girls entertaining sailors (they have money) who are not supposed to be there as long as Fräulein Schneider doesn’t see them.

Gabriel Macedo and Sue Boland
Sue Boland, the quintessential and charming Fräulein Schneider, always at the top of her game as the boarding house-house mother and owner perfects her “So What” number with authenticity.  On counterbalance, sweet John Garcia’s Herr Schultz, (“Married”) the Jewish fruit merchant who always brings goodies, is as clueless as the rest.

The world as they knew it collapses on Schultz and Schneider when Ernst tells her that their marriage cannot happen because Schultz is Jewish. Remember the Nazi’s are trying to get the ‘Jewish Problem’ solved. (Her “What Would You Do?” is as relevant now as it was then.)

Hunter Brown’s (“Two Ladies”) spirited and boyish take on the Emcee is just what the doctor ordered. Getting caught up in the Kit Kat Klub was for him the ideal go between and he relished it exclusively. He, as the other’s, thought the party and ongoing decadence would last forever. So much for assuming.

Sarah Alida LeClair’s “Don’t Tell Mamma” (“Perfectly Marvelous”), “Maybe This Time”, “You have to understand the way I am Mein Herr”, and “Cabaret”, has the right voice, strong and oft times soaring, is somewhat convincing as the drug and alcohol induced Sally Bowles.

As the object of Bradshaw’s affection and wanna be savior by rescuing her and whisking her off to his home city in Philly, he’s not an equal for her insatiable drive to be a star.

Hunter Brown with Janet Hwu
Unfortunately the chemistry between Macedo’s Cliff and LeClair’s Sally is no convincing match either (“Perfectly Marvelous”). The lack of any visible dynamic between the two makes it a stretch to believe their relationship. 

Ian Brandon’s musical direction with the Kit Kat Band overlooking the action below is fine. Jaese Lecuyer’s choreography will need some polishing as the production picks up in the weeks to come. Lisa Burgess’s costumes fit the bill and Adam Cuppy’s sound design helps accent the highs and turning tides at the Kit Kat Klub.

But do “Come To The Cabaret, My Friends” because “Life is A Cabaret.”

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through April 28th
Organization: Coronado Playhouse
Phone: 619-435-4856
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1835 Strand Way, Coronado, 92117
Ticket Prices: $22.00-$28.00
Photo: Ken Jacques