April 2009


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Trace Turville (Clytemnestra) & Brian Weir (Hermione)

Clytemnestra sits prostrated on her bed, staring at her daughter Iphigenia’ suitcase.  A year ago today, Iphigenia was sacrificed in front of her father Agamemnon’s troops on the eve of the Trojan war. Clytemnestra holds on to the small suitcase as if it could morph into her belly and she could give birth to her beloved child all over again.

In The Ghost Road Company‘s adaptation of Aeschylus’ “Oresteia,” Clytemnestra was at home when her daughter’s life was taken or offered, depending on who’s telling the story. She didn’t know about the sacrifice, she didn’t witness her death nor did she see her daughter’s lifeless body. Traumatized by the shock of this devastating news and furious over her husband’s betrayal, Clytemnestra’s life – or lack of it – revolves around Iphigenia’s effects, the dress she wore the last time Clytemnestra saw her and a video of the “event” too grainy to give the Queen the information she craves.

The trio of Furies who come to fetch the First Lady to the anniversary celebrations do not take no for an answer. Clytemnestra has no choice but to find the strength to get up, get dressed and get out in front of a crowd to sing the praises of King Agamemnon and their brave daughter Iphigenia.

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The Furies: Madelynn Fattibene, Sarah Broyles, JoAnn Senatore

If HOME SIEGE HOME comes in two parts: “Clytemnestra” being the first and “Elektra & Orestes” the 2nd, grief is known to come in many stages. Clytemnestra treads its dangerous waters, one moment engulfed in sorrow, another energized by anger and a desire for revenge.  Her children, Orestes and Elektra, turn to their parents for guidance and support, in vain.  Neither parents nor children know how to end their torment, making them ripe for manipulation.

The Ghost Road company chooses early1960’s aesthetics to lighten up the drama. The rose colored walls suggest optimism and Tupperware parties rather than funerals and endless wars. In her salmon suits, Clytemnestra prances around like a reincarnation of Jackie O who comes back to earth just so she can experience what it feels like to exchange grace and sweetness for self-righteousness and straight talk.

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Ron Wingate (Orestes), Trace Turville (Clytemnestra) and Mandy Freund (Elektra)

Despite antiquated first names and wardrobe,  it’s impossible not to draw parallels between Clytemnestra and victims of our war on terror like Mary Tillman, known for her quest  to find the truth about her son’s death while he served in Afghanistan.

Clytemnestra’s predicament and its effect on her children, The Furies’ devotion and the complexities brought forth by the impassive goddess Artemis or the compassionate Hermione keep the audience engaged and wanting to return to see Part II.  Yet, it’s not in its display of emotions, no matter how deep, that this worthy drama hits the hardest but in its silences: the looping video of Iphigenia’s dress floating in the wind like a soul caught in Limbo;  the sight of the Furies, unusually solemn, lining up the stage with bar-coded urns. By Act III, everybody on stage and off is more than ready for the reunion between King and Queen. Agamemnon’s redeeming quality: in those days leaders didn’t just declare wars and send soldiers to the battlefields, they fought by their side.

This is the last week of performances for HOME SIEGE HOME at Inside The Ford. Part I (Clytemnestra) will be performed on Friday at 8pm and Saturday and Sunday at 4pm. Part II (Orestes and Elektra) will be performed on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm. Click here for more information.

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Sacrifice of Iphigenia.

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Sarah Rosenberg, Joyce F. Liu and Tohoru Masamune in Henry Ong’s “Seppuku!”.

Photo by Gary Leonard found on LA Downtown News.

There’s no place like home for Company of Angels. For their second year of LA VIEWS, eight members of their Playwrights Group explore the legacy of the silent era movie stars who held their secret rendez-vous and opulent parties at the Alexandria Hotel, where Company Of Angels’ black box theater is located. The hotel hasn’t been restored to its 1920’s glory; no face lift for this aging star so don’t be put off by the wrinkles on its floors and walls and please don’t leave without taking  a peek into the retired ballroom, with its lights on and off.

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The Palm Court ballroom found on Bryan Arnett’s web page: “Alexandria Hotel Then and Now.”

Company of Angels’ playhouse is on the hotel’s 3rd floor.  Since most of LA VIEWS II’s 8 one-act plays take place at the Alexandria, I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of being turned into a voyeur and watching from a peephole.  The chemistry between 2 perfectly cheerful bellhops, Joshua Lamont and Juanita Chase, “your hosts for the night,” definitely add to the excitement.  The playful duo speaks to us as if we were in the heydays of the hotel then suddenly asks us to “please turn off any noisy device” using their back-and-forth banter to blur the lines between past and present.

True to CoA’s mission, the playwrights don’t linger in the shallow side of the celebrity pool and instead give us a broad view into the silent screen era from the stars’ personal (Henry Ong’s “Seppuku!”) and/or political point of view (Jamison Newlander’s “Goodbye, Mary Pickford”) to their racial makeup and sexual preferences. But what makes the show unique is that the stories are told in the present. The silver screen’s gods and goddesses are evoked in spirit by men and women who share our 21st century’s quirks, obsessions and longings: extras on the set of “The Sheik”s remake (Leon Martell’s “Do You Not Know?”,) security guards in the hotel’s lobby (Damon Chua’s “Fresh Cream Pie”,) lovers and loners hiding in hotel rooms and movie theaters.

The comedic sketches outnumber and may overshadow the more subtle or darker pieces, but it does make this joyful evening a perfect remedy to fight our current state of depression. Credit goes to the sensitive direction and the high-power ensemble’s comic timing which keeps us on our toes during even the most predictable one-act.

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Marco Tazioli and Brian Rohan in Lilly Thomassian’s deliciously surreal  “Pan Troglodytes”

At the end of the show, in the theater’s lobby, portraits of Pola Negri, Enrico Caruso, Mary Pickford, Sessue Hayakawa and their peers called out to me when I hadn’t even noticed them upon my arrival. I smiled at them in new found appreciation and they smiled back.

Through May 10th. For venue address, schedule of performances, and cast/crew information, go to http://www.companyofangels.org.

Click here for my interview with CoA member Xavi Moreno.

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I’m not sure this post belongs on a blog about Los Angeles. John Weller was British and died today or yesterday. To my generation, he was Paul Weller‘s dad and manager.

Recently I was watching the “Strange World” video on You Tube and I laughed when I saw John Weller introduce his son’s band as he did countless and countless times with the famous: “Put your hands together for the best band in the fucking world!”

John Weller deserves this Smiling Spider tribute because it’s rare for artists to be supported by their parents, especially when you’re as young as Paul Weller was when he started (he dropped off of high school to dedicate his life to music.)

John Weller wasn’t one of those parents who push their kids to become stars or hope it will make them rich and famous. John Weller was a cab driver and construction worker who drove his son and his band mates to rehearsals and concerts for the sole purpose of indulging a son he loved and of whom he was so protective that he made himself their band manager. Seeing from comments posted on various websites today, the memory of John Weller’s lively introduction to The Jam’s concerts is dear to many. Witnessing at the beginning of every concert the tight father-son relationship became a significant and healing ritual for an audience composed of angry teenagers who were probably estranged from their parents.

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Paul Weller turned 50 this year… still writing original material after all these years.

John Weller went on to manage his son’s affairs for the rest of his life. Paul Weller, who fronted one of the most famous British bands of the late 1970’s-early 1980’s, The Jam, then went on to form The Style Council in the mid 1980’s, is one of the few musicians from the punk rock era (The Jam had more of a 1960’s style but they came out of the early punk years and Paul Weller always said he was influenced by the Sex Pistols’ sound) to have had  a very successful solo career throughout the 1990’s and up until today. At 50, he just won the Best Solo Artist at the Brit Awards and just released a successfully acclaimed double album.

I don’t think I would remember John Weller today if I hadn’t caught the first few bars of The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice” on the radio a few months ago and hadn’t fallen in love with it all over again. And when I was in DC for the inauguration of our 44th President, the soundtrack in my head was The Style Council’s “Walls Come Tumbling Down.” So here’s a tribute to Paul Weller, the lasting artist, and John Weller, the dream dad who made it happen.

A very young Paul Weller tells us what he thinks of institutionalized education.

The Style Council – “Walls Come Tumbling Down” – mid 1980’s

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I will be attending Brooklyn & Boyle’s poetry night on Friday and reading a poem at Casa 0101’s on Saturday. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Happy Poetry month!!!

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“LA Views II” is the second installment of the Company of Angels’ hugely popular Playwrights Group project, “LA Views,” which debuted in 2008. Among the inspirations for this show are Enrico Caruso, Sessue Hayakawa, Alla Nazimova, Pola Negri, Mabel Normand, Ramon Novarro, Mary Pickford, and Rudolph Valentino.

Luminaries of the Silent Era are the inspiration of contemporary Los Angeles playwrights Damon Chua, Leon Martell, Jamison Newlander, Henry Ong, S. Vasanti Saxena, Lilly Thomassian, Brenda Varda and Kyle T. Wilson.  This moving and comic chronicle, set during the heydays and nowadays of Downtown Los Angeles’ Alexandria Hotel, shines a light on the parallel lives of those who have inhabited this building in its heyday and those who dwell in its present embodiment. This production examines lives once lived at their most celebrated, while contrasting the reality of current existence that approaches irrelevance and obscurity.” http://www.companyofangels.org

Finding myself in the company of actor/poet Xavi Moreno at an exclusive private screening of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” in Boyle Heights last weekend, I decided Xavi was the perfect spokesperson for CoA’s new production. One reason is that he performed in two significant plays last year which highlighted L.A.’s history present and past:  the exuberant Company of Angels’ staging of  Ricardo A. Bracho’s “SISSY“,  about affirming one’s difference on the streets of 1970’s Culver City, and Cornerstone Theatre Group’s “FOR ALL TIME” written by KJ Sanchez, a heart wrenching examination into how civilians and convicts alike are affected by the consequences of their actions and by the laws of California’s  justice system. The other reason for making Xavi Moreno’s the ambassador to “LA VIEWS II”?  He’s one of those rare actors who can claim L.A. as his native city.

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Company of Angels members Richard Azurdia and Xavi Moreno in Boyle Heights.

Xavi Moreno:  I was born, raised and staged “East”of the LA River in the historic neighborhood of Boyle Heights. The house I grew up in has a view of the Hollywood sign from the front porch. I wasn’t inspired by seeing the sign every day – I couldn’t – it was always smoggy. It’s in my blood. My parents have always been entertainers. I was placed on stage 2 months after my birth. I played “Baby Jesus” in a comedic production of “El Nacimineto” that featured my pops as Jose and several other known Mexican actors at the famed El Million Dollar stage in Downtown. That was my first on-stage performance, naked and I’m still not equity..haha.

What kept the inspiration wheel rolling was my babysitters: El Chavo del Ocho, El Chapulin Colorado, La India Maria and novelas like Rosa Salvaje and Carusel de Ninos. My parents were always working so these folks took care of me and when the T.V was shut off, it was my turn to shine and that’s when my crush for live theater began and I have endured a lifelong love/hate relationship with the stage ever since. Theater has stereotyped me, personalized me, released me, and brought me many of my best travels, friends, and experiences, while it has also held me back and held me down. Theater is the foundation that all my accomplishments have been built upon. It’s the fuel that jets me always a step ahead of the pack.

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When Xavi’s life is not engulfed by theater, he performs as one of  Los Poets del Norte.

(more…)

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One thing I love about the Bootleg theater is that they often have great art work in the lobby and if you take the time to look at it you realize it was created especially for the show currently playing. Just received the following press release that I find terribly enticing. Tomorrow’s preview is Pay What You Can.

WHAT:
The bomb may have dropped out there, but the party’s just getting started in here. The REPO division and Bootleg Theater present the world premiere of Doomsday Kiss, a savagely funny, terrifying, and sexy multimedia collaboration between visual artists, writers, directors, actors and musicians riffing on the theme of doomsday. An art installation, four interwoven plays and musical performances combine to examine the complicated relationships between people facing certain annihilation.  The central character is Randal Maxit, a has-been designer of the apocalypse desperate to atone for his sins.  A lobby exhibition of Maxit’s life’s work (developed by artists from various mediums) offers a reference point before entering the theater.

WHO:
* Written by: Eva Anderson, Clay Hazelwood, Wesley Walker and Sharon Yablon
* Directed by: Adrian Alex Cruz, Andrew Hopper, Amber Skalski, Gordon Vandenberg
* Featuring: Shawn Buchholz, Hank Bunker, Alana Dietze, Michael Dunn, Jessica Hanna, Lily Holleman, Niamh McCormally, Ben Messmer, Gray Palmer, Babar Peerzada, Alina Phelan, Mickey Swenson, Tina Van Berkelaer, Annie Weirich, Jacqueline Wright
* Art installation curated by: Sandy Rodriquez
* Visual artists:  Ron Dotson, Jorge Javier Lopez, Isabelle Lutterodt, Derrick Maddox, Rigo Maldonado, Anne Martens, Guadalupe Rodriguez, Rebeka Rodriguez, Sandy Rodriguez, Brian Scott, Allessandro Thompson, Armando H. Torres, Vincent Villafranca, Victor Wilde and Scott Winterrowd
* Musicians: Toni Senatore and Cody Cameron
* Creative Director: Andrew Hopper
* Presented by: the REPO division and Bootleg Theater

WHEN:
Preview: April 16
Performances: April 17 through May 10
* Thursday at 8 pm: April 16 (preview)
* Fridays at 8 pm: April 17 (Opening Night), 24; May 1, 8
* Saturdays at 8 pm: April 18, 25; May 2, 9
* Sundays at 7pm: April 19, 26; May 3, 10

WHERE:
BOOTLEG THEATER
2220 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90057

HOW:
213-389-3856 or http://www.bootlegtheater.com

TICKETS:
General Admission: $25
Students/seniors: $10
Preview performance: Pay what you can

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Sam Cherry:Photographs of Charles Bukowski, The Black Cat, and Skid Row

Malcolm McNeill and William S. Burroughs:The Lost Art of Ah POOK

April 4th-May 2nd, Track 16 Gallery @ Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Bldg C-1, Santa Monica, CA 90404
Telephone: 310-264-4678

Sam Cherry’s photographs take the viewer on an historical journey through intimate moments with Charles Bukowski, the 1940s Bohemian scene at The Black Cat Café (San Francisco’s creative hub), and Los Angeles’ Skid Row in the 1980s. The gallery also presents the west coast premiere of The Lost Art of Ah Pook IS HERE, paintings, drawings and prints from the unfinished collaboration between William S. Burroughs and artist Malcolm McNeill. Named LA Weekly’s Pick of the Week last week, these are two exhibitions not to be missed!

For more information, go to http://www.track16.com

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