Reviews


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Ewan Chung, Emily Kuroda and Peggy Ahn in Nic Cha Kim’s RE:verse. Photo by Nic Cha Kim.

“After 10 years, Lodestone Theatre Ensemble is calling it quits. No, this isn’t another sad tale of an arts group crunched by the imploding economy. L.A.’s maverick Asian American stage company simply decided that it’s time to go.”We felt we had hit our stride,” says co-artistic director Philip W. Chung. “We had done all that we could with this incarnation.”… Lodestone’s final season is designed to showcase its desire to tell unconventional stories in unconventional ways (its motto is “plays without rules”) and an affinity for life’s dark sides, tempered by a sense of humor. “We’ve always done whatever we wanted,” says Chung. That’s meant shunning staples of Asian American theater — generational struggles, cultural identity crises — and pursuing “new plays by new writers, plays with more edge that might even be seen as twisted.” From “Lodestone Theater Ensemble is going out on its own terms” by Karen Wada, Los Angeles Times, 05/03/09. Click here for full article.

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Feodor Chin and Peggy Ahn in Tim Lounibos’ BE HAPPY. Photo by Nic Cha Kim.

Tim Lounibos, co-founder, who wrote BE HAPPY one of the 4 one-acts comprising TEN TO LIFE, the first show of the final season: “I’ve been with Lodestone from the start and spent the past one and a half years in a dark claustrophobic room with my fellow Lodestone colleagues, creating a perversely compelling show to kick off our final year. TEN TO LIFE is part Twilight Zone, part Outer Limits, part Hitchcock and, hopefully, 100% entertaining-exactly what Lodestone should be.”

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Feodor Chin, Janet Song and Ewan Chung in Annette Lee’s HACIENDA HEIGHTS.

I saw the show last Saturday and all I can tell you, without giving away too much, is that it lived up to its bizarre, entertaining, perversely compelling  and twisted expectations.  My unnatural opinion – to stay in the spirit of TEN TO LIFE – is that watching Annette Lee’s HACIENDA HEIGHTS made me feel like an organ being transplanted into a body that never quite accepted me: the whole wasn’t greater than the sum of its inventive yet odd parts. Tim Lounibos’ first creation,  BE HAPPY, is a house of dangerous mirrors reflecting the most vulnerable aspects of ourselves and constantly keeping us on the edge of our restraint seat thanks also to the wonderful chemistry between Feodor Chin and Peggy Ahn. I already knew that Judy Soo Hoo was one of the Brothers Grimm’s most talented cousins. Phantasmagoria is the word that came to my inquisitive mind as I struggled to describe her RED DRESS. When I looked up the eccentric noun on http://www.thefreedictionary.com, its definition perfectly described what I had witnessed: “A fantastic sequence of haphazardly associative imagery, as seen in dreams or fever.” I’m only sorry I didn’t get all of the explosive finale because of a certain magic wand used by actress Emily Kuroda with such authority that, on that night, it drowned out her voice.

I know, I know, it’s only three stories and I said TEN TO LIFE consists of 4-one acts. In Nic Cha Kim’s RE:verse, Jully Lee (I always look forward to see her perform,) Ewan Chung and Feodor Chin show off their range and hit many notes, from ardent to discordant,  in quite a few interesting and compromising positions. I really can’t say anything more about it. And certainly not anything wrong. My hands are tied. I shouldn’t say that. I don’t want my hands tied. You see, I’m afraid the author will go after me if I say something wrong about RE:verse. If he greets you in the lobby, don’t be fooled by his gentle nature… and please, I urge you, don’t tell anyone that I said on the blogosphere of 112.8 millions and counting, that Nic Cha Kim is…. unrepentantly WICKED!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Jully Lee and Feodor Chin  in Nic Cha Kim’s RE:verse. Photo by Nic Cha Kim.

The cast includes Peggy Ahn, Feodor Chin, Ewan Chung, Elpidio Ebuen, Emily Kuroda, Jully Lee, Janet Song, Carin Chea, Vincent Gabucan, Junko Goda and Joon Lee. The show is directed by Alberto Isaac.

Through June 7th. For show times, admission prices and directions to the GTC Burbank, go to http://www.lodestonetheatre.org.

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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 suggest Harry Potter fans stay away from the Rogue Artists‘ adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean‘s “The Comical Tragedy OR Tragical Comedy of MR. PUNCH.” It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for humans period. It’s for puppets. Only creatures made of wood can withstand this two-hour ride on the planet of the puppets where humans’ distorted features forever expose the latent predator in all of us. Think twice before you step in the theater, because, like The Professor (Tom Ashworth) says to The Boy (Sean Eaton/Connor Merkovich): “When you put Mr. Punch on, there’s no taking him off. ”

The Punch (Tom Ashworth) and Judy (Miles Taber) show.

MR. PUNCH is the story of a young man (Miles Taber) reminiscing about a life-changing summer when as a Boy (Connor Merkovich/Sean Eaton,) despite grumbling and protesting, his parents sent him away to spend the summer at His Grandpa’s (Dana Kelly, Jr.) Grandpa runs a fair by the sea with The Boy’s hunchback Uncle (Kerr Seth Lordygan.) The young parents laugh at The Boy’s desire to stay with them and cut even deeper by adding that Grandpa might eat him for supper.

Settled by the English seaside, the Boy spends most of his time with the fair’s main attraction: Mr. Punch. “Families are supposed to love each other,” he whines while watching Mr. Punch torturing his newborn. The star miniature obeys the little master. Suddenly, flowers bloom on the tiny stage. The sun rises. But the Creature takes a 360 degree turn to spew a “IT’S MYYY WOOORRRLLLD TOO!” so convincing it blew the house down. Think before you enter. Disneyland’ small world might never ever feel the same. It is a Mr. Punch’s world and Mr. Punch does whatever the hell he wants.

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Toraichi Kono and Charlie Chaplin.

I attended two out of the three plays presented at EdgeFest’s LA History Project at the Autry National Center last Sunday. Circle X’s 1pm production of Tom Jacobson’s “The Chinese Massacre” which “chronicles the first race riot in Los Angeles history, when 19 Chinese men and boys were lynched by a mob of 500 people from all nations” was a truly impressive debut even if still in the workshopping stage. The play generated many laughs while staying true to the hard facts. Or attempting to. Indeed, some of the funniest moments were born out of the playwright’s desire to confess to us that all the research he did came from press clippings and studies that might or might not tell the absolute truth. Sometimes the playwright gave us two points of view on the same person or incident from two different sources with two very different agendas, which made the play very timely as we’re dealing with two presidential candidates with two very different versions of our future, our past and our present. I highly recommend that you add your name to Circle X‘s e-mail list to stay informed about the future of this disturbing yet necessary play.

I stayed for the next presentation: the first act of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble’s “My Man Kono” written by Philip W. Chung and directed by Jeff Liu about Toraichi Kono who was Charles Chaplin’s valet for 17 years “before being arrested as a Japanese enemy spy on the eve of World War II.” This first act was extremely moving and also enlightening – does anybody know that Charlies Chaplin was the subject of an attack on his life while visiting Japan? – thanks to a terrific cast all around and an outstanding Garrett Wang as Toraichi Kono, all impassive face and bottled up emotions against Donovan Oakleaf’s Charlie Chaplin pirouetting around the stage with open arms and an overflowing heart. I must say when the play began I was embarrassed for whoever had the formidable task of bringing Charlie Chaplin to life but that’s exactly what Donovan Oakleaf did and I’m still recovering from the shock of having been in the genius’ presence. I also recommend that you go to Lodestone’s website to get a chance one day in the near…distant… future, as Philip W. Chung promised us, to witness this intriguing pair who, ironically, ended up having more in common when they grew apart.

Here is Sunday’s line-up for Part II of the festival:

11 AM
Watts Village Theater Company
At Risk
By Judy Soo Hoo
Directed by David Catanzarite
In a fictional middle school in South Los Angeles, every student is at risk, and so is every teacher. Watts Village Theater Company’s offering to the festival explores the history of United Teachers of Los Angeles through the eyes of a rookie and the motley band of veterans who get him through his first year.

1PM
About Productions
Bleeding Through
Written by Teresa Chavez and Rose Portillo
Directed by Teresa Chavez
A multi-media work inspired by Norman Klein’s novella Bleeding Through Layers of Los Angeles, which uncovers the narrative ghosts, both fictional and non-fictional of Angelino Heights, and addresses historical forgetting and the erasure of memory.

3:30PM
Native Voices at the Autry
Serra Springs
By Larissa FastHorse
Music by Brian Joseph
Lyrics by Brian Joseph and Larissa FastHorse
Directed by Robert Vestal
Two teens, two adults and one strange dude deal with some major surprises during one magical night at a protest to save the last sacred site of the Tongva people in West Los Angeles.

What: EdgeFest Los Angeles History Project
When: Sunday, July 13, and Sunday, July 20, 11AM, 1PM, 3:30 PM
Where: Autry National Center of the American West, Griffith Park Campus, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA, 90027-1462
How Much: Free
Reservations: Not required.
More Info: lahp@edgeoftheworld.org

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Keirin Brown (L,) Olya Petrakova (standing), Bryan Brown and Ilana Turner. All photos by Taso Papadakis.

After literally feeling your way to a seat in the pitch dark theater, you hear actors moving about on stage, feeling that anytime now the lights should shine. The performers sound like they’re shoveling dirt, but you really don’t know, as you can’t even see your hand one inch in front of your eyes. Strangers next to you are antsy. “Lights please!” Despite a few audience complaints, whoever is on stage goes about their dirty business, echoing machines from the dawn of the industrial era or maybe the monster hiding in your closet, whose sole purpose is to get you.

“TURN THE LIGHTS ON!” spectators are now shouting. Sharing my peers’ mounting anxiety, I also jubilate in witnessing the house stand up for its rights, holding cell phones over their heads like torches. The American Russian Theatre Ensemble Laboratory has struck again!

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These 10 minutes of revolutionary theater was ARTEL’s way of kissing 2006 goodbye. Last December, the provocative ensemble folded 2007 with a two-night presentation of their work-in-progress: Variation #50 (the memorable adventures during the legendary times of Mikhail Afanesievich Bulgakov) at Highways Performance Space.

Click here for the full review.

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WICKED! @ The Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood ~ Through May 8 ~ General: $35.00-$98.00. Premium seating: $177.50-$201.50. Lottery: $25.00 cash.

WARNING: This review is a major spoiler.

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In 1958 Hollywood made a film version of the Broadway hit show Bell, Book and Candle. In the screen adaptation, the stunning Kim Novak plays Gillian, the owner of an unconventional art gallery specializing in African art. By day, Gillian moves about her possessions sensing the protection of the spirits who once inhabited her haunting collection of African masks.

By night, Gillian lounges at the local jazz club wearing tight fitting black and red gowns. In full frontal view, Gillian’s outfits look deceivingly proper until Gillian, in true catwalk fashion, gently wiggles and a plunging decollete exposes Novak’s bare and famously gorgeous back. Gillian doesn’t leave the club with a jazz player in tow even if Kim Novak, in real life, would soon be Sammy Davis Jr.‘s lover. When the famous couple contemplated tying the interracial knot a year later, their friends congratulated them on their upcoming marriage and expressed their condolences for their soon-to-be dead careers. Kim and Sammy’s relationship quickly turned to dust.

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and can he marry a gorgeous White movie star?

In 1950’s Hollywood, such a single-minded gal and erotic affirmation of life as Gillian can’t really be a woman… of course not… soon we discover that Gillian is really a witch!

Enters the most sexually unthreatening male actor who ever lived:

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James Stewart as Sheperd Henderson… Would you be looking at the cat?

Click HERE for the full review.

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