Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Young Playwrights Find Their Voices In Playwright Project 2019

Plays by young writers, “The Playwrights Project” is 34 years old this year.  If you want to know what the future generation of up and coming young thinkers have on their minds you will want to attend any number of the new plays on tap through Jan. 26th.

415 scripts by youngsters ranging in ages 11-18 were submitted this year. Festival Artistic Director Ruff Yeager, in his opening remarks, assured the audience that each and every work submitted was read and judged accordingly.

On opening nigh of the festival two finished and fully produced plays and one musical were highlighted: “Sea Of Fog” by Jack Ventimillia, “A Mother’s Mother” by Emma Kuli and “Trash! The Musical”, by Naomi Melville. Each was  given the full treatment with professional directors, set designers, lighting designers, costume and sound.

Jalani Blankenship and Daniel Woods as Daxx
Sixteen year old Jack Ventimilia’s “Sea of Fog” delves into the challenges two ‘outsiders struggle with to understand’ and define religion in the modern world. Daxx (Daniel Woods) and Denise (Jalani Blankenship) meet by chance in a familiar area outside the local church graveyard.

Denise is overly religious and depends on God for favor and acceptance. Daxx on the other hand is more simplistic in his beliefs. He is preoccupied with saving his sister from a possible date that might go wrong. He shows up with a knife, she is bible bound. The two go back and forth citing confessions they each made in their group therapy as they try to find common ground and close the wedge that separates them.    

Both young actors deserve kudos for their realistic interpretation of the playwright’s messages. Woods pushes through as his character Daxx questions and then walks away from Blankenship’s Denise strict dogma.

Blankenship is a third year theatre major at UC San Diego and no stranger to acting. This is Woods’ first role acting in a play and he’s off to a great start.

George Yé directs.
“A Mother’s Mother” by 18-year-old Emma Kuli is an insightful look at a teen pregnancy through the lens of a 17year old girl, Billie (Nancy Batres) whose own mother, Willa (Lettie S. De Anda) was confronted with the same uncertainties of being an unwed mother, that her daughter is now facing.  
Lettie S. De Anda and Nancy Batres
Directed with a caring eye by Deborah Salzer (founding mother of Y.P.P. in 1985), 'Mother's' opens innocently enough as the two argue about what to order out for lunch. They go back and forth and as the topics of spicy food vs. added expenses for extra salsa for their tacos to the stigma of being an unwed teen mother turns serious, the play takes a turn for Willa to share her story with her young daughter, one that was never talked about until now.  

Willa tells her daughter that she was given the silent treatment by her own mother and then shipped off to an uncaring aunt miles away when her mother learned of her own daughter's pregnancy. She would never do that to her own daughter.

Eighteen -year old Ms. Kuli, a freshman at Santa Clara University and is as big as a minute, has captured a moment in a mother/daughter relationship that will cement the two together in the years to come.

As birth control becomes more difficult to obtain more talks like this will be happening across the nation. Rather than looking with disdain, acceptance is a must. Miss Kuli, more mature than her age defines has found a compromise that should work for both mothers'; the one that is and the one that is to be. 

Thanks to the dedicated and realistic acting of both women yours truly felt the bonding as the food fetishes slipped away and a coming together began to grow.    

Miss De Anda was an Aubrey Award Nominee –Best Actress in “This”. Ms Batres received her MFA in Theatre Performance from University of Texas, El Paso. Hats off to all four women whose understanding of women makes this new play and young playwright so valuable.
The Peace de Resistance is 17- year old Naomi Melville’s “Trash! The Musical” directed by Ruff Yeager with music direction by Michelle Gray on piano, choreographed by Dana Maue and mentored by Thomas Hodges was the highlight and most creative of the evening.

Melville, a senior at Mt Carmel High School wrote her first ‘script in middle school’, is involved in the drama department and is the Co-Captain of the Improv Team.

Diego Castro in background, Tommy Tran and Claudette Santiago
No question this now generation is, what I refer to ‘as the throw away generation’. Nothing of value has value when something bigger and better comes along. It was just a matter of time that some young, bright, clever and vigilant writer would pen a play or musical about TRASH!

Four characters in the cast of Trash! The Musical” make this entry special: Trash (Claudette Santiago), Rusty (Diego Castro), Texas, (Tommy Tran) and Dolly, (Amy Perkins) all find themselves outside, in the alleyway of a building complex, today. 

It all begins when writer (Krista Wilford) bounces into the alley and drops some no longer used paper into the trash.  Rusty welcomes a newcomer, Trash, who pops out of a trashcan dressed in a paper dress held together with notepaper, as she ponders just how and why she’s there. (“Welcome to trash”)

Each of the characters is accordingly named, as they are dressed. Texas is a discarded Texas Instrument calculator cleverly dressed with discarded wires and circuit boards attached to his clothes. His with robotic movements are in keeping with his name.  

Rusty’s braided hair and rusty face and clothes is a discarded and rusty steel drum. He seems to be the spokesperson for the group.  Doll, a toy is dressed in a pink ballerina outfit from head to toe claiming she’s there by mistake.
Tommy Tran, Amy Perkins (center) and Claudette Santiago
Melville’s eye for comedy, music and relevance in today’s world of throw away is exceptional as her musical journey is about to begin. Hats off to this talented cast and especially playwright Melville.

And… be on the lookout for this show to be produced on a larger scale in the not too distant future.
Other plays included in this years program (that I did not see) and will be given staged readings include ”Just Let Me Help” by 14 year old Marco Herrera and Chris Johnson and “Have Hope” by 11 year old Shyla de Hoop. 

Check out their web site for more information at playwrightsproject.org.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Jan 26th
Organization: Young Playwrights Project
Phone: 858-384-2970
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Web: playwrightsproject.org
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Ken Jacques

Monday, January 14, 2019

“Moon Over Buffalo” A Perfect Way To Start The New Year

One might think that after watching the hilariously funny production of Ken Ludwig’s “Moon Over Buffalo” at North Coast Repertory Theatre (through Feb. 10) that someone is feeding  the cast some special cool aid, it’s that hysterical.  

Josh Braaten and Katrina Ferguson
Ludwig, whose “Crazy For You” and “Lend Me a Tenor” and just recently “Robin Hood” (premiered at the Globe last year) is a two time Tony nominee and recipient of the Lawrence Olivier Award.

“Moon Over Buffalo” opened on Broadway in 1995 and starred Carol Burnett. “Buffalo” takes place in 1953 when TV was making inroads into the home and road theatre was on the way out.
Arthur Hanket and Roxane Carrasco
 “Moon Over Buffalo” is all about the backstage shenanigans of an over the hill acting couple, George and Charlotte Hay, (Arthur Hanket and Katrina Ferguson play beautifully opposite each other) whose love of and for the theatre drives them into performing,  “Cyrano De Bergerac” and Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”, in repertory, at The Ertanger Theatre in Buffalo, N.Y.  Rather than hanging it all up and retiring they are committed to pursue their love of acting even in the face of bankruptcy.  

In the dressing rooms where all the hysterics, histrionics and real life bickering goes on unseen by the majority of the audience, the ‘play’s the thing’ is being acted out in the front of the house where eventually some missteps from the their 'private lives' spill over on to the viewing audiences. 

Arusi Santi, Arthur Hanket and Josh Braaten
This particular backstage farce has all the ingredients necessary for the physical as well as the low humor and running gags needed for such a piece: a rotating set with Marty Burnett's five door revolving stage keeping the action moving at two paces; fast forward and faster forward.

Costumes fall apart by design, (Elisa Benzoni is a genius at this) a hard of hearing grandmother (Roxanne Carrasco) who hates her hearing aids, love gone awry on all fronts, lots of missed cues, (lighting by Matt Novotny) and lots of slamming doors, even the one with a bell that rings every time it’s opened and closed. (Melanie Chen Cole).   
Arthur Hanket and Katrina Ferguson
There is no question that this gig might be the Hay’s last hurrah. They hope to be saved from mounting debts and shrinking audiences when they learn that Frank Capra is coming to town to take a look at them for a possible role in the movie “Lost Horizons” where Ronald Coleman the lead, fell at rehearsal and broke a few bones making him somewhat impotent to go on. 

This leads to mistaken identities, miscommunication, lack of communication, too much communication, accusations, melodrama and a terrific drunk scene by Hanket (Five star performance that almost dun him in) that brought the house down the day I was there. It rev's up the action and pushes this little farce as far as it can go. With the help of some fine supporting actors, the play leaps out from every door. 

Josh Braaten and Jacque Wilke
Roxane Carrasco is a hoot as the stone -deaf mother-in-law, Ethel. The Hays’ daughter Rosalind (Jacque Wilke is always a find) has given up acting as well as her last beau, Paul (Josh Braaten) who still hasn't figured out what happened between the two.  She returns to the scene of the crime to introduce her new fiancée Howard to her parents.  Braaten is also part of the acting ensemble in the play within the play and fits right in.

Howard, (Arusi Santi) turns out to be the weatherman on a TV station in Buffalo. He also has a deer in the headlights look about him, or perhaps he’s just in a fog with all the mishagas going on.

And lest we forget the ingénue, Eileen (Brittney Bertier) who is not so secretly having an affair with George and announces she is well…pregnant.

 Charlotte’s loath of  George's infidelity feeds into her need to run away with Richard (Matthew Salazar-Thompson), The Hay’s attorney. Thompson's looming presence, without much dialogue (but if you read faces), says volumes…and his look reads success dressed in Ms. Benzoni’s stunning period look suit and shoes. Right on!
Arusi Santi and Brittney Bertier
As an ensemble piece every one of the players and every over the top scene with every move played to please under director Matthew Wiener’s keen eye for comedy, is physical, multi-layered, wonderfully comic, spot on perfect. If you are looking for some fun and you like farce, try this one. It plays through Feb. 10th.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 10th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type: Farce
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Suite D. Solana Beach, CA, 
Ticket Prices: $45.00-$56.00
Web: northcoastrep.org
Photo: Aaron Rumley

Thursday, January 10, 2019

South Coast Rep’s “ Culture Clash (Still) In America”... Still Razor Sharp

For South Coast Repertory’s 55th season and 523rd production “Culture Clash” is just what the doctor ordered. After Orange County, littered with hives of ‘red leaning’ politicians and thinking (for more than the 60 years I have lived in San Diego), turned the tide to ‘blue’, in the last election cycle, I was encouraged by the overwhelming positive and vocal responses from the audience at the matinee performance I attended of the latest mind boggling up to date and razor sharp rendering of “Culture Clash (Still) in America”.

Culture Clash founders Ric Salinas, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya have been mucking around in socio/political and cultural muddy waters for many, many years. I’m guessing it was well over thirty years ago that I saw my first ‘Culture Clash’ performance in a small, black box theatre in downtown San Diego just in back of the old then shuttered Balboa Theatre.
Herbert Siguenza and Rick Salinas
Over the years, the group has been commissioned and awarded grants to write plays for specific theatre's, as was the case with the 1998-piece “Bordertown” performed at The San Diego Repertory Theatre directed by artistic director Sam Woodhouse.

In it, 100 people from all walks of life including then mayor of San Diego Roger Hedgcock and then Sheriff Bill Kollender, along with ordinary citizens from both sides of the American/Mexico border were interviewed and real life and current events during that time frame were the targets of the group’s piece.

While San Diego itself is touched on in this current piece, the focus is in Orange County and every encampment up and down the coast where orange groves once lined the freeways.

Ricardo Salinas and Richard Montoya
In all of their works, past and present, ‘CC’ has zeroed in on satire that is set within the Chicano Community and its affect on the white culture and how it has changed the thinking also within its own community; a cause and effect reality that will be giving the group enough work for a lifetime.

Most of their stories are disguised in humor, and told with flamboyance, confidence and flair; they poke fun at the perception that if it comes from within it’s Ok to laugh. Wrong! It is, however time for some serious thinking.

Minute-by-minute political satire, social realities and cultural difference are performed with a wink and a nod: most from past reference. The skits are woven into a tapestry of what many of us may recognize and call  ‘our America’. Frankly my friends, it ‘aint pretty and it’s getting ugly by the second. 

Ricardo Salinas
No question, 'CC' has penchant for making it look easy with their fast back and fourth repartee, instant costume changes (Carolyn Mazuca), made to look easy scene changes (Christopher Acebo) with cool projections filling in the blanks (Tom Ontiveros) all coming together without a hitch thanks to Lisa Peterson’s tight staging.

If you are a follower, you will recognize many of the same characters and gigs. I reference the hysterical salsa routine by Ric Salinas showing the different ways the salsa is danced within the Latinex community. There are also new-bee’s thrown in; Melenia, the lesbian couples dog is the least subtle.

Richard Montoya in custody of ICE
Two ICE agents are introduced at the top of the show referencing to the humanitarian crisis at the border, the caravan, a youngster physically taken from her father by our own Border Patrol Agents, Tiki Torches of Charlottesville, survivors of the mass killings at the Pittsburgh Synagogue and an in depth description of sex change surgery that was almost TMI, all filling the one act now being staged in Orange County.

As an equal opportunity offender, I had to be realistic enough that if my ethnicity were to the butt of their comedy, it was in my best interest not to get huffy. The only reference I did hear was from the socially active group from Pittsburgh. 
Ricardo Salinas and Herb Siguenza
Because of the group's longevity and the fact that their writing is collaborative, each of the men knows their strengths and weaknesses giving high marks to all three without hesitation. Overall, they may see weaknesses yours truly did not. 

I hop, skip and jump to the near end of the performance played by Siguenza, as El Reverendo, that brought tears to my eyes. He’s in a wheelchair under a street light in the dregs with both the homeless and the dead under a bridge with everyone gathered around him:
Siguenza (center)
 “I said to myself I’m an American. And in that same precious instant I asked myself what is an American?
“In Heaven everything is equal. ...There are no flags in Heaven. No walls.
“The population of Heaven is young, brown, and does not speak English, I have found very few Americans there…
Everybody seems to be black, Latin, Arab, or Chinese so, I guess Heaven is like Earth…
And America was becoming more like Heaven everyday.
But I didn’t see it that way while I was alive, No. I was blinded by fear, prejudice. I guess I wasted a lifetime.”

Dylan in the background: still on the road
Heading for another joint…

It’s always a good idea to revisit the guys in Culture Clash just to get a refresher of what’s really important.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Jan. 20th
Organization: South Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 714-708-5555
Production Type: Comedy/Satire
Where: 655 Town Center Drive,
Ticket Prices: $31.00-$86.00
Web: scr.org
Venue: Julianne Argyros Stage
Photo: Jordan Kubat/SCR