Tuesday, November 30, 2021

“1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas” Charms and Delights New Village Arts Audiences

 What does a ‘nice Jewish girl’ do on the first night of Chanukah?  She goes to a Black Family Christmas (Party). Well…? 

Dea Hurston, philanthropist extraordinaire has chosen to branch out and pursue her passion for writing. And lucky for us in the theater world she did. Along with her creative team and collaborators  Milena (Sellers) Phillips, Frankie Alicea-Ford and Kevin “Blax” Burroughs — her first play, a musical and a winner from the start, “1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas” is currently  in a world premiere production at New Village Arts partially renovated theatre in Carlsbad through De. 26th.

Kory LaQuess Pullam and Deja Fields

What makes this different from the many Christmas plays I’ve seen?  Well, for one the characters are black save for one adopted son Javier (Frankie Alicea-Ford) who is Latinx and gay... and whose boyfriend Brian (Durwood Murray) is gay, black and Jewish, that’s different. It doesn’t get any more inclusive than that by anyones standards. 

Milena (Sellers) Phillips, Victor Morris, Kory LaQuess Pullam and Deja Fields

The house is decorated (Savannah Brittian) with symbols that include Kwanza Candle in the kitchen and masks, art work from different black artists. The interior of the house is beautifully crafted, warm and homey looking.

All in all, the family included in Hurston’s play, as mentioned above, is pretty much seen through a black perspective. But the overall message is that family is family and with few exceptions the Black family has it’s up’s and downs, crisis and suspicions, secrets and confessions, love /hate relationships, and its share of misunderstandings.

The Black family has lived on 1222 Oceanfront before the price of houses went skyrocketing and is now worth millions. When Dorothy Milena (Sellers) Phillips and her late husband James bought the house even as it was out of their price limit, they went ahead anyway. As the time moved closer to their moving in, the neighbors were bitching because a black family was going to be in the neighborhood. 

The Black's needed a way to come up with enough money for a down payment since the price of interest was also going up. With the help of their extended family the money came through and Dorothy hosted the family Christmas two day gathering for the length of the loan that was thirty years. Over those years traditions were made. 

Portia Gregory, Durwood Murray and Deja Fields

The traditional foods were Italian because they could only afford pasta and the fixings. Dorothy’s famous lemon aide was a specialty for her now grown son, James, JR (Kory La  Quess Pullam). In fact, he looked forward to having some as he and his now wife Aada (Deja Fields) were heading to Carlsbad for the holidays. All he talked about was his lemon-aide and the special relationship with his mother. For Aadya, she couldn’t get Dorothy to recognize her if she stood on her head and whistled Dixie. She was in marketing and Dorothy could never understand how she earned her money. 

As the show opens, Lizzy (Portia Gregory) Dorothy’s sister comes to the dinner with her specialty and food and presents.  She’s also carrying the ashes of her late husband, June, kept in Santa doll large enough to stand alone on the fireplace mantel so he can be included. Gregory is a hoot and a howl as the know it all sister who introduces Dorothy to her co -worker Victor (Victor Morris). 

Portia Gregory

Both work at the Post Office and Lizzy wants them to get together. Victor is no shrinking violet either. He’s a towering good looking ‘cowboy’ who adds a whole new dimension to the dynamics of the family. The show takes some dizzying twists and turns but that's what makes it so authentic and oft times funny. 

It’s not every day that a new musical comedy/drama is as ready for audiences as 1222 Oceanfront. With most original music (Beautiful Christmas Day”, “Christmas Morn”, “Merry Christmas to Me”, “Cowboy Christmas”) by co- creator Milena (Sellers) Phillips and of course the usual traditional Christmas music, (“Silent Night”, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”) it has a real holiday feeling especially under the deft direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. 

Milena (Sellers)Phillips and Victor Morris

Phillips also has some pretty sensual moves when she remembers dancing with Victor on a Vegas trip. Dejay Fields is outstanding as a singer and dancer, who, along with Pullman make a strong and very good looking couple. The fact that everyone could sing and the entire cast looked like they were fully involved makes for a truly magical evening. Look for it to become a holiday regular. 

The creative team includes stage manager Beonica Bullard, Set and properties, Savannah Brittian, Sound designer, Violet Ceja, Lighting designer, Daniel Johnson- Carter, Costume designer Channel Mahoney & Joy Yvonne Jones Choreographer, Lisa M. Green and music adaptation & direction by John-Mark Mc Gaha.  

So, back to the question of what does a nice Jewish girl do on the first night of Chanukah?  She goes to the theatre to see a black play filled with charm, love, comedy and drama and the everyday vicissitudes of the Black Family. 

And she lights the candles the for the remaining nights!


When: 2 p.m. Wednesdays. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays. 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays. 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 26.

Where: New Village Arts, 2787 State St., Carlsbad

Tickets: $20 to $59

Phone: (760) 433-3245

Photo: New Village Arts

Online: newvillagearts.org

COVID protocol: Full vaccination required with at least 14 days from second shot, or negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of performance date. Masks required indoors for all.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Not So Starry, Starry Night for Van Gough in Kimber Lee’s “to the yellow house”

When we think of Vincent van Gough, we think of beautiful sunflowers in full bloom and in different phases of ageing, post impression landscapes, and still life’s, oil paintings, (about one hundred sixty that we know of) portraits, and self -portraits, to say the least. His art is world renowned, and priceless. We know that now. But in Kimber Lee’s “to the yellow house” now in a world premiere production currently at The La Jolla Playhouse through Dec. 12th , sunflowers and the like were the last things on his mind.

Unfortunately for van Gough he suffered through long dark periods of depression and self- doubt.  He was plagued by every negative force that came his way throughout his life especially in the period, two years before his death in 1890, when he was searching in vain for new beginnings while living with his beloved brother and best friend Theo in the yellow house in Paris that Theo rented for the two of them. 

Brooke Ishibashi, Deidra Henry and Paco Tolson

Lee wrote the play after she read “van Gough: The Life”. “For me, this play is about somebody on a journey of figuring out “how do I do this thing that everyone keeps telling me I can’t do?” “The time structure that exists in the play-it’s essentially a memory play-….”

In a two plus hour homage to van Gough, director Neel Keller and Lee trace his tracks from his arrival in Paris at the yellow house and follows his struggles to begin anew and find himself. van Gough hopes, with the help of his brother Theo who is an art dealer, he might get a leg up to show his dark and lackluster paintings but Theo offers nothing but negative comments about his paintings. Frankie J. Alvarez as Theo, Vincent's loving brother who provides financial support is a study in stability, the complete opposite of his brother's instability.

van Gough looks for companionship and friendship from like-minded friends like Paul Gauguin, (Marco Barricilli) and Emile Bernard (DeLeon Dallas).  Through it all Gauguin would be his long lasting friend while the other two were more hail fellow well met friends yet bring some much needed humor to their roles.

Frankie J. Alvarez and Paco Tolson

Deidre Henry is an outstanding Agostina, Vincent’s par amour, Café owner and biggest fan and Brooke Ishibashi is a baker in progress at the café and the first contact Vincent makes when he ventures into town. The seven member ensemble adds more depth and humor to the struggles of Van Gough’s already unsettled life. 

Takeshi Kata’s -two tiered set gives way to dark scapes across the entire stage, with the intent of the audience seeing what Van Gough sees. “I want you to feel what I feel and see what I. see”.

David Israel Reynoso’s costumes are period are right with some color to the overall darkness especially on the women’s costumes. Palmer Hefferan’s sound design, Nicholas Hussongs realistic projections, Masha Tsimring’s lighting, and Alberto “Albee Alvarado wigs and Justin Ellington’s original music fits in with the mood of the story. They all add up to a realistic look and are true to the vision of the playwright's work.

Paco Tolson 

With a strong cast and a steadily convincing, overly morbid and grouchy to a fault Paco Tolson as Vincent, the production tends to be repetitive and depressing, in tune and tone with the moods of van Gough. With tightening and some culling “to the yellow house” will be a find in the annals of serious, historical and educational drama.   

Hat’s off to Kimber Lee for showing us a part of the determination that resides in us all. van Gough never lived to see his masterpieces. He continued to sketch and paint until the very end when he was destitute and finally took his own life, but he never gave up pursuing his dream. 

As a nice touch, volunteers were giving out sunflower masks to the audience. 

‘to the yellow house’ plays through Dec. 12 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Weiss Theatre.

Shows Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursday Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.

Tickets: lajollaplayhouse.org

Proof of vaccination and masks mandatory.

Photos: Rich Soublet II

 ‘to the yellow house’ plays through Dec. 12 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Weiss Theatre.

Ticket information: lajollaplayhouse.org

Proof of vaccination and masks mandatory.


Wednesday, November 24, 2021

“She The People” by Second City Raises a Glass to Women


It was difficult to divide the opening night audience at the San Diego Rep. of “She The People” now on the Lyceum Stage through Dec. 5th as to what genders outnumbered what genders. Clearly the six women ensemble came to bury the male ego not to praise it. (All in fun of course). 

The women in the audience along with a few good men (very few) clapped, yelled and ya hood and were all over each and every act the group performed from taking turns as a group, sanctifying and praising the progress women have made over the years and pointing out there are still miles to go,  mountains to climb and finally leading up to a strong monologue from the first Woman President (Kazi Jones). 

The six women do what Second City has done since its inception in 1959 when the ‘comedy revolution/’began in Chicago; they make people laugh. It is comedy for women written by women. The show includes sketches, music and audience participation. One of my favorites, the game show “You Oughta Know’ where the chosen audience member, who was a good sport, couldn’t identify who the Sec. of State was but knew about the Kardashians.

“She The People” created and originally Directed by Carley Heffernan features for this San Diego showing Lexi Alioto, Kennedy Baldwin, Katie Caussin, Kazi Jones, Yazmin Ramos and Laurel Zoff Pelton. Elisa Wattman is at the piano and is also Music Director. 

Sketches include a number about anyone can have a  ‘gay baby’, women doing commercials demonstrating a shampoo under a waterfall tickled my funny bone and how women want men to look at their faces not their bodies so why not come out as a dinosaur and finally, but not the least last, championing for  having pockets in all women’s clothing.  

With so much material to spoof and jab at and with the men in power still dictating what women can and cannot do with their bodies and the chances of women getting equal treatment like pay in the workplace, “She The People” will never run out of material. 

And while the show was overly over the top, oft times crude and  funny as hell it is just what we need now. Some of the spoofs went fleeting by so fast that yours truly had a difficult time catching up with a few because some skits began while the audience was still laughing at the past skit.  My brain doesn’t work that fast. Sorry ladies, slow down a bit for the old fogies. But do enjoy the experience. 

Some names you might recognize from Second City over the years include Tins Fay, Joan Rivers, Gilder Radner and Amy Sedaris. And yes, there were men in the group as well: John Belushi, John Carey, Martin Short, Alan Arkin and Dan Aykroyd to name a few. 

“Second City: She the People” will run through Dec. 4, with performances at 7 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 

Photo: Timothy Schmidt

Tickets are $25 to $91. 

Proof of full vaccination or negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of show time required. 

Masks are also required indoors. 

For tickets, call (619) 544-1000 or sdrep.org.


Sunday, November 21, 2021

For A Bit of Twisted Holiday Cheer, “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls” Might be Your Cup of Merriment.

The cast and director, Phil Johnson of Roustabout Theatre Compny and Christopher Durang seem to have a symbiotic relationship in Roustabout’s treatment of its current production “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” now at Moxie Theatre through Dec. 4th. 

I say that with tongue in cheek, because, well they all seem to be savoring every tasty morsel of dark humor where Durang spoofs the four or so little playlets with glee, the most polished is the parody on  Tennessee Williams “The Glass Menagerie”. 

The four cast members Wendy Maples, Walter Murray, Omri Schein and Wendy Waddell are all plugged into Durang’s warped humor rapid fire conversation and for ninety crazy minutes, you will laugh yourself silly. Lest we forget, director Johnson can be just as goofy as the rest especially if you remember him with Schein in “Withering Heights” and “She Rantala from Outer Space”. 

l to r Wendey Wadell, Omri Schein, Wendy Maples and Walter Murray

In the first skit married couple Marsha and Jim (Waddell and Murray) are locked into a 13 year ho hum marriage with littler or nothing to talk about when Murray gets a phone call from a long ago high school girlfriend. She wans to come out and visit and ‘talk’ about old times. When she arrives, he’s baffled because he barely recognizes her (she’s gained lots of weight and has had several surgeries on her face) and doesn’t remember ever being close to her. 

Maples is all over Murray with not very convincing push backfrom him much to Waddell’s chagrin. Of the trio, Maples shines as Waddell moans and groans perfectly as the injured wife and Murray frowns and looks surprised loving the attention.

Schein makes several appearances on stage, one as a waiter in a Tea Room annoyed at Murray for not liking borscht but ordering scrambled eggs instead.  In another he plays a writer who is approached by an agent (Maples) to write a play about a Rabbi who wants to marry a priest played by Waddell. That was too funny but Renetta Lloyd’ and Roz Lehman’s costumes of the Orthodox Rabbi stole that segment. 

Omri Schein, Wendy Maples, Wendy Waddell and Walter Murray  as Tom.

The most developed and black as black comedy can get is the takeoff on Williams’ “Glass Menagerie” where Schein is now Lawrence not Laura. Amanda (Waddell) calls him a cripple. Instead of her/his menagerie of animals, Lawrence plays with his cocktail swizzles. He calls them by name driving his mother crazy with his potpourri of illnesses and his refusal to meet anyone.

Murray plays Tom Lawrence’s brother who at Amanda’s urging brings home a lady caller named Ginny (Maples looking like Rosie the Riveter) for Lawrence.  She turns out to be a lesbian. And then Tom the breadwinner goes to the movies every night and brings home his own gentlemen. 

It’s all so…loud as Ginny (Maples almost screams her lines because she’s hard of hearing.  At the end of that segment yours truly was ready to give her my hearing aids. And through it all, Waddell’s Amanda is still the ‘charming’ southern bell who once had seventeen gentlemen callers in one day. But if looks could kill both her children would be dead. 

Omri Schein, Walter Murray Wendy Waddell and Wendy Maples

With an all talented cast and Johnson directing, the laughs came so fast we were barely able to catch our breaths. And for a seasonal show NOT about Christmas this one fits the bill taking our minds off the holidays and the worlds woes for at least ninety fun filled minutes.

Alyssa Kane’s simple set worked well as the quick scenes kept everything moving at rapid speed and Chloe Oliana M. Clark’s lighting is right on.

In case you are interested in any of Durang’s plays try reading or seeing if possible, “Beyond Therapy”, “Sister Mary Explains It All” and “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike”, the last was seen here at the Old Globe some years ago. 


“For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” plays November 20, 21, 23, 27, 28 and Dec. 2-4 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. 

Talkbacks will be held after the Nov. 21 and 28 matinees.

For tickets: https://www.theroustabouts.org/

Photos: Roustabouts Theatre Company

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination and masks required.

Friday, November 19, 2021

“Hairspray Returns to the Big Stage at the Civic and Knocks the Audience Off Its Feet

 “Hairspray”, Broadway’s Great Big Fat Gorgeous Hit (Clive Barnes) is back for yet another go around at the Civic Theatre through November 21st. Winner of eight 2003 Tony Awards including Best Musical and directed by our own Jack O’Brien of Old Globe fame, the Broadway cast starred Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnbald and Harvey Fierstein (the King or Queen of drag and the quintessential Edna Turnbald) as her mother, Edna. Both won Tony’s for their respective roles.

Niki Metcalf as Tracy

“Hairspray”, based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Walters who was also the creative consultant for the musical, with Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan who wrote the book, original score by Academy Award nominated Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, takes place in Baltimore, 1962 where things ‘they were a changin’. 

Welcome to the 60’s sung by the Dynamites Caira Asante, Mea Wilkerson, and Renee Reid. And as an afterthought this is what was happening in the ‘60’s. 

Words like Afro, Beehive, Extensions, Perm, Pig Tails, Pompadour, Skunking and Teasing were made popular. The Civil Rights Act, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, JFK, Bay of Pigs, Peace Core, Cuban Missile Crisis and the death of Marilyn Monroe were a few items that made history in the early 60’s. That we were in for some trying times would be an understatement for years to come.

For Baby Boomers I and younger who may not remember the ‘60’s here are a few dances that thrived then: ‘Stricken Chicken’; ‘The Madison’; The Locomotion’; ‘The Handjive’; ‘The Bug’; ‘The Pony’; ‘The Mashed Potato’ and ‘The Twist’. Lord knows what the dances are called now and that would be dating me past the Polka, the Tango, Cha Cha and the Waltz. 

With a sustained energy by the entire cast compared only to the EveryReady Battery, O’Brien dusted this new touring show (first stop here) off with some updated language and a few political and local references as the production moved along like clockwork.

Overall though, the cast is one of the best balanced I’ve seen with the likes of  Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad the overweight girl with the two tone bouffant, teased to hilt who gets the hunk Will Savarese as Link Larkin the wannabe Elvis look alike), or that her best friend, Penny (Emery Hendreson) supports her to the hilts: “My mother’s going to kill me for going to jail without her permission”.)

Tonisha Harris, Niki Metcalf and Andrew Levitt

 Then as now written into the show, Tracy’s one goal after being able to dance on the famous Corny (Billy Dawson) Collins Show with its white dancers and white producer Velma (Addisonj Gardner and her conceited daughter Amber (Kaelee Albritton) is to integrate the show with the matter of her being overweight right in front of us to judge or not how capable plus sized folks can perform and compete with anyone. 

Hats off to Niki for the dynamism she brings to the show along with her fellow actor Brandon G. Stalling as Seaweed J. Stubbs andother exceptional dancer and ultimately Penny’s boyfriend.


The underlying theme of integration was a biggie then but since the  Black Lives Matter  movement, the energy in the theatre on opening night proved to be a winning point and especially when her newly found friend Mototmouth Belle (bring the house down Toneisha Harris, “I Know Where I’ve Been”) will eventually host the Collins show once a month on ‘Negro Day’. 

Then there is the matter of Tracy’s parents. Her mother Edna (drag queen star Andrew Levitt aka Nina West) is one of the most beautiful and loving Edna I’ve seen as she tries to protect her daughter from getting hurt, while her dreams of becoming a famous designer are coming to fruition.

Her husband Wilber (Christopher Swan) is just the right person to fit the bill in their loving and caring relationship. Their big production number “Timeless To Me” is worth the whole show. It’s fun, loving, caring and just sweet. It brought tears to my eyes. It sums up the feeling of the show.

Some credits are due: Scenic design by David Rockwell, Sound design by Shannon Slaton, Wigs and Hair design by Paul Huntley and Richard Mawbey, Video designs by Patrick W. Lord and  Conductor Patrick Hoagland was in the pit and life was beautiful for 2 plus hours.

The New York Times said about the show: “If life were everything it should be, it would be more like Hairspray.”

Photo by: Chris Bennion and Jeremy Daniel

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. 8 p.m. Friday. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego.

Tickets: $35 to $120

Online: broadwaysd.com

COVID protocol: Proof of full vaccination required or negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of showtime or rapid antigen test performed by a medical professional within 12 hours of showtime. Masks required indoors.