Archive for month: February, 2013

You Can Dance at Your Divorce Party

27 Feb
February 27, 2013

Most people feel that divorce is more of a funeral than a musical, but the new Divorce Party the Musical: The Hilarious Journey to Hell…and Back! is determined to convince us that there is life after divorce. And that there is sex after divorce. This naughty musical, opening Sunday at El Portal Theatre, offers tips on “how to suck it up and move on.” Its theme is Congratulations on Your Divorce, [and let us start you on] The Road to Finding a Happily Ever After. That long-winded title is actually the title of the book by Dr. Amy Botwinick from which much of the Divorce Party musical is taken. “We have celebrations for everything significant in life — weddings, funerals, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, graduations — why shouldn’t we celebrate a divorce?” she asks. “Of course,” she notes, “divorce is a drama trauma, but it needn’t be.” Botwinick’s prescription (she is a chiropractor): “Laughter is the best medicine. If you can laugh, everything looks better.” As co-conceiver, co-writer and co-producer of the musical, she and the other co-, Mark Schwartz, have concentrated on the laughter part. Schwartz is the producer of the popular Menopause The Musical, which has been running in theaters around the country for 10 years and has now been seen by 10 million theatergoers. “Menopause used to be known as ‘the silent passage’,” Schwartz notes. “Nobody spoke about it. But that’s changed now; it’s out of the closet and not a topic that is taboo anymore. “Then, too, the subject of divorce was taboo; it was considered a shonda (in Yiddish, a shame, an embarrassment) and was only spoken about in whispers. But today, with half of all first marriages and 60 percent of second ones ending in divorce, it’s a subject that affects nearly everyone and is readily talked about.” “The main message of the musical

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is ‘You’re not alone’,” Botwinick adds. “It’s about solidarity. Women, especially, need to recognize that they’re part of a gigantic sisterhood, and this play lets them know that what they’re going through is what everyone goes through. They need to be reminded that others get through it, and they will too.” When Linda, the protagonist in this life-shifting drama, dissolves her marriage, her three best friends show up to boost her spirits, give her dating tips, and a “massage for the soul.” They even organize a makeover for her — of both the outer body and the inner. The friendship between the women helps Linda go through a total transition. And the show’s creators hope that it will be helpful to anyone in the audience who needs the insights that the friends provide. The show’s humor and its conversation about sex are intended to encourage even the most uptight in the audience to relax. “Since everyone around them is laughing uproariously, it gives them permission to enjoy themselves, too,” Schwartz says. “You can see it in their body language,” Botwinick adds. “At first some are sitting with their arms folded across their chest and a stern look on their faces, but at a certain point they give up that posture; they open up and really begin to enjoy themselves.” Both Schwartz and Botwinick have gone through the divorce trauma themselves. Schwartz has two ex-wives, four children, and a significant other whom he has been with for more than 20 years. Botwinick is candid about her own divorce. “Everything looks great on paper,” she acknowledges, “but sometimes you just fall in love with the wrong person. We tried to make it work and we had two boys together, but eventually we divorced.” Then she met a lawyer named Gary and he became her “new and improved husband” — but only after she had dated him for five years. Gary had four children, two boys and two girls, and “we became a modern-day Brady bunch,” she says. It wasn’t always easy. Becoming a stepmother to four teenage children who were years older than her own two was an experience that had its own traumas. “When they came back to live at home after college, we butted heads a lot,” she confesses. “Believe me, I’ve earned those kids!” In addition to a new family, Botwinick also made new friends through her husband’s friendship with a fellow lawyer — the “significant other” of Broadway producer Mark Schwartz. “Mark and I have become best friends,” she says. When Schwartz learned about Botwinick’s Divorce book, and a second one she had written called The Divorce Party and Moving On Handbook, he

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thought the two books would make a logical follow-up to his own theatrical blockbuster, Menopause, the Musical. After a fruitful writing collaboration with Botwinick, and the addition of lyrics and choreography by Jay Falzone, Divorce Party the Musical — the Hilarious Journey to Hell…and

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Back! was ready for its premiere in West Palm Beach, Florida, with Falzone directing. After a successful run in Florida and a brief run in Canada, the show now moves on to its West Coast premiere. It stars Janna Cardia, Soara Joye Ross, Mary Jane Waddell, Samara Dunn, and the lone man in the show, the “boy toy” Scott Ahearn, who plays nine different roles, including a pizza delivery guy, a massage therapist, and a makeover artist. Schwartz hopes to take the show to an Off-Broadway venue. It’s about “two hours and a quarter,” he says, and “it cuts to the reality of life and spins it on its head.” “People want a high,” Botwinick adds. “This musical gives them a feel-good buzz, a fun vibe.” As in Menopause, the show uses classic songs that are rewritten as parody. Schwartz explains that parody “comments directly on the original song’s idea and makes fun of it. You can use another composer’s song if you follow the very specific parameters for parody, such as assuring that the rewrite does not discourage people from buying the original song.” “This is an ensemble cast,” Botwinick notes, “and two of the cast members are actually going through their own divorces at the moment. What you need to get through a divorce — or any life-changing event, for that matter, is humor, passion, and persistence.” Or one can always fall back on this Divorce Party advice, “Don’t get mad — get everything!” Divorce Party the Musical: The Hilarious Journey to Hell…and Back! El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Opens Sunday. Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 2 and 8 pm, Sun 1 and 6:30 pm, through April 14. Tickets: $25-65. www.elportaltheatre.com. 866-811-4111. Reprinted from the LA Stage Times, published February 26, 2013 Photo: Soara-Joye Ross, Mary Jane Waddell, Janna Cardia, Samara Dunn. Photo by Jason Gillman

Interview with playwright Lori Jaroslow

24 Feb
February 24, 2013

“I wrote it, but I’m so happy I’m not in it!” That’s Lori Jaroslow talking about her new musical, The Baby Project, which opens Friday as the first production in Road Theatre’s brand-new second home at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony. As writer and producer, “I can give the show the attention it needs, focusing on all the elements,” she says, “without getting in the way of the director and the actors. In fact, I stayed away from the early rehearsals so that they could develop the process by themselves. An actor can only hear one voice at a time.” Jaroslow’s voice is loud and clear in this musical comedy that started out as an autobiographical solo piece. Expanded to five actors playing more than 30 different roles, the play deals with the trauma that a single, bisexual 40-something New Yorker goes through as she tries to acquire a baby. “It’s a little surreal having a couple of dozen people working on something you wrote,” she says. “You have to be respectful of everyone and pick your battles very carefully.” With 30 years of acting, singing, writing and directing under her belt, Jaroslow has earned the right to express her opinions. Her writing includes numerous essays, screenplays, and personal narratives, but it still took her “more than a decade” to develop The Baby Project. “We’ve had multiple readings in New York and LA and in Provincetown in Massachusetts, “ she says, “but this production is the first time it’s really on its feet.” When the Road Theatre agreed to present the play, it applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts — and received it in 2011, she is pleased to acknowledge. Jaroslow talks proudly of her family. Her father was Jerry Jarrett, an actor who was one of the seven men who played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway. She herself played Tevye’s oldest daughter Tzeitel in 10 different productions, with her father’s Tevye as well as with Herschel Bernardi, Theodore Bikel, and Topol. At one point she played the role with her father and her aunt, Ruth Jaroslow, who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for playing the role of Yentl more times than anyone else on the planet. Her mother, on the other hand, was a professional musician. She played bass with the Boston Pops. “I am a ‘high belter’ in musicals,” she notes. “I usually play funny characters, never an ingénue.” Her favorite of these was the lead in Funny Girl at a dinner theater-in-the-round in Connecticut. “I’m very versatile,” she admits, “which is both a blessing and a curse. But I love writing comedy, and I’m looking forward to writing another musical.” In addition to writing the book and collaborating on the lyrics with Fonda Feingold and the music with Feingold and Noriko Olling, Jaroslow also credits Michael Schiralli with providing additional material, Jodie Patterson for her choreography, and Shannon MacMillan, who directs. MacMillan, a graduate of the Dell’Arte International School for Physical Theater, has training in movement, vaudeville, commedia dell’arte and music, in addition to directing. Although Jaroslow says she has had a good relationship with all of her collaborators, “what I would really like to do in the future is write, direct, and pop myself into the leading role.” Also she would like to

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see The Baby Project run in New York, get published by Samuel French, and have 50 companies doing it all over the country. “I’m hoping this production at NoHo will launch that kind of action,” she says. As for the play itself, she gets tangled up between art and real life when she discusses it. “I get myself confused with the character in the play,” she laughs. “We both went through the fertility processes, but they didn’t work, so my doctor suggested I move to LA, ‘where the sperm is better.’ “Later, I was substitute teaching in LA schools and I still had a desire to parent somebody. I wanted to have a child, but my partner at the time didn’t want children, so I gave up on the idea—–temporarily. “Four years ago I adopted a teenager, Samantha,” she continues. “Adopting someone who has spent her life bouncing around the foster care system is not easy, but as a friend of mine put it, ‘If she is comfortable giving you a hard time, it shows she trusts you.’” Jaroslow currently teaches eight classes a day, three days a week, with 30 students in each class, at the Colfax Charter School. She teaches piano and directs the kids in musicals — Alice in Wonderland and Willie Wonka, for example. But mostly she likes to work with them in creating and performing original plays that they write themselves. She has also directed CDs for children written by Amy Friedman for an audio series called Tell Me A Story. She is particularly proud of the fact that she won a prestigious AUDIE award for her direction of Women of Wonder for that series in 2010. When asked whom she admires of today’s current crop of actors she moans, “I haven’t seen anything in three years. I’ve been reworking my musical 700,000 times and getting to know my daughter.” Later, however, she rattles off a list of a dozen well-known actors, “and of course I love the actors in The Baby Project: Lani Shipman, Kasi Jones, Ann Hu, Jillian Easton, and Susan Boyd Joyce. “I most admire people with tremendous confidence and great self-esteem who are also kind, generous, and thoughtful of others. In entertainment I admire people with those characteristics who are also entrepreneurial and strategic. I wish I had the marketing skills of Madonna, for instance. I admire anyone who thrives in this business, stays creative, makes a living, stays emotionally healthy and balanced, and has love and family in their lives. Those are the people I envy.” The Baby Project, Road Theatre Company’s new theater at NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Opens Friday. Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through March 17. Tickets: $25. www.RoadTheatre.org. 866-506-1248. Photo: Kasi Jones, Ann Hu, Lani Shipman, Jillian Easton, Susan Boyd Jones Photo by Deverill Weekes Reprinted from the Los Angeles Stage Times, published February 20, 2013

Suicidus Interruptus

19 Feb
February 19, 2013

A tall man in a tightly-buttoned suit and a bowler hat, carrying a large black umbrella, stands on a ledge on the seventh floor of an apartment building. Behind him are seven arched windows from which a collection of weirdos pop from time to time. Like the loonies who used to pop out of windows on the old Laugh-In show on TV. But these weirdos are so loony as to become decidedly tedious after a while. They, like the building, provide 7 Stories, which is the title of this nonsensical comedy by Morris Panych. Their “stories,” however, are silly and only sporadically funny. There is the “psychiatrist” in his pajamas who talks in angry non sequiturs and exhibits belligerent paranoia as he accuses the nameless man on the ledge of hiding secrets from him. There is the mistress of the married man who hangs out the window in her slip while he chokes her to death. Except that trying to kill each other is a “love game” they play. There is the couple in party hats and the lady who answers the wishes of the people who live on the floors below hers by lowering gifts on a string from her window. There is also a man with rouged cheeks and a fake moustache who climbs out of his window to share the ledge, and a cigarette, with the tall man before going back inside for his wedding to a very rich heiress whom he is marrying for her money. The heiress, he says, is marrying him because she thinks he is somebody else. While all the characters talk readily to the tall man, none of them seems particularly curious as to what he is doing on their ledge. The play, as the program notes inform us, is considered “metatheatrical,” which is defined as “a convenient name for the quality of force in a play which challenges theatre’s claim to be simply realistic.” It may, the program continues, “dwell on the boundaries between illusion and reality within a

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speculate on the complex mixture of illusion and reality in our ordinary experience.” You got that? There is nothing “real” in this play, but the actors do it very well. Under the fast-paced direction

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of Bruce Gray, the Man (Eric Charles Jorgenson) and the “psychiatrist” (Richard Hoyt Miller) are especially good, while Greg Barnett, Jennifer Laks, Steve Oreste, Flora Plumb, and Jill Remez, each playing two different roles, bring the hilarity to a finer point than one would expect. For those familiar with the work of French surrealist Rene Magritte, the set designed by Jeff G. Rack is a special treat. The building and the windows are covered with fluffy clouds floating in a Magritte-blue sky, and The Man, with his black suit and bowler hat, is the personification of Magritte’s iconic faceless man. This play, finally, is a mish-mash, but some of it will make you laugh and some of it will hold your interest. It depends upon how “real” you need to be. 7 Stories, currently having its West Coast premiere, will run Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 through February 24th at Theatre 40’s Reuben Cordova Theatre on the campus of Beverly Hills High School, 241 S. Moreno Drive, in Beverly Hills. Call (310) 364-0535 or visit www.theatre40.org for tickets.

Daddy’s Last Concert

10 Feb
February 10, 2013

For anyone who’s ever wished that he had grown up as the child of a major celebrity, Elliot Shoenman’s new play A Heap of Livin’ provides a powerful cautionary tale.

Ramblin’ Harry Roe, a hillbilly folk guitarist impeccably played by the formidable Lawrence Pressman, has been a spectacular success all over the world—but not in his own home. Mostly because he didn’t spend much time there. So his two daughters, instead of being inspired or entertained by the famous “good friends” that their father constantly name-drops, grew up more or less in a vacuum presided over by a loving but compliant mother (now deceased).

The two daughters, Pearl (Didi Conn) and Eden (Jayne Brook) are now middle-aged with grown children of their own, but their obligations to their families have given way to the immediate need to provide for the end-of-life care for their ailing father.

Ramblin’ Harry has come with Pearl from their homes in California to appear in an important concert in New York. They plan to stay with Eden, a successful author, in her tasteful Manhattan apartment.

Eden’s latest book, a biography of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, has not sold well and she bemoans the disappearance of neighborhood book stores. “The only place you can buy a book now is at the airport,” she claims, “so if I want to browse I have to buy a ticket—to China!”

Sister Pearl has an additional agenda for this visit. She has been running back and forth from her home in Ventura County to Harry’s in Topanga Canyon several times a week to see to his needs, take him to doctors, and hire nurses and care-givers that he routinely fires. She is exhausted, and delivers a loving but firm ultimatum to Eden: “It’s your turn now!”

But Eden will have none of it. She feels she has been doing her part by providing for her father’s living expenses. She is angry and bitter over what she perceives as a lifetime of his neglect.

“With my father, the image trumped reality,” she says. And her father, though frail, is still bombastic, chiding his daughters for not sufficiently acknowledging his massive success, his importance in his field, and his celebrity.

While the underpinnings of this drama may sound grim, this lively play is fortified by its overriding warmth, its recognizable truthiness, and its gigantic sense of humor. Eden is sarcastic—Pearl accuses her of having a “relationship disorder”—Pearl is ironic, and Harry is offensive and defensive in turn.

This marvelous threesome, tightly controlled by director Mark L. Taylor, is augmented by the delightful Salli Saffioti as a young neighbor coping with having abandoned her roots as a Chasidic Jew. (She calls the sisters, who are Christian, “high goyim.”)

The ensemble also benefits from the original songs of Academy Award winner (for Norma Rae) and double Grammy winner (for Saturday Night Fever) David Shire and the classy and tacky living room sets designed for Eden and Harry, respectively, by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz.

A Heap of Livin’, produced by The Inkwell Theater, is currently having its world premiere as a guest production at The Odyssey Theatre in West L.A. It will run Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 through March 17th. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles. For tickets call 310-477-2055 or visit www.inkwelltheater.com.

Photo: Jayne Brook, Didi Conn, Lawrence Pressman
Photo by Lew Abramson

Family fantasies

03 Feb
February 3, 2013

Timothy McNeil’s new play, Machu Picchu, Texas, now having its world premiere at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood, is like a Chinese meal: satisfying and absorbing at the time, but leaving you hungry an hour later and wondering “What was all that about?” It’s an angry, dysfunctional family again, folks, but this time the intensity is mitigated by a cast that is uniformly excellent and a set designed by Michael Fitzgerald and Aidan Fiorito that is tightly partitioned and amazingly cluttered. Harold (Tom Stancyzk), the paterfamilias of the Ogden family, is a cynical, abrasive bully, a drunk who splatters vitriol on everyone around him. His long-suffering wife Sonia (Bonnie McNeil) is the quintessential hostess, continually making peace and cupcakes. They have a daughter Melissa (Meghan Cox) who is given to histrionics and an affair with her first cousin. The cousin, Terry Foster (Matt Magnusson) is described by his family as “fragile,” but he appears more confused than fragile. He has dropped out of college temporarily and is disconnected from his life and his future. Terry’s mother Rhonda (a savagely bitter Tara Stewart Thornton) is Sonia Ogden’s sister, and her bitterness is stoked by her husband Charlie’s incapacities. Charlie has been violently assaulted by a gang of thugs and is in a wheelchair. Although his thinking processes seem to be intact, he speaks painfully slowly, stammering and stuttering his way though each sentence. Charlie, played by playwright and director Timothy McNeil, is the focal point of everyone’s attention, and he is depicted as a saint. If this were the Middle Ages, he would be canonized. He is kind, generous, concerned, and inordinately helpful. Also in the mix are June (Heidi Sulzman), a long-time friend, and her oafish husband Donnie (John K. Linton). June is the one who labels Harold a delusional, pompous ass and bully. To which Harold responds, “We are all trapped—each in his own way.” Sonia, his wife, is happily trapped in her fantasy of Machu Picchu and delivers a soliloquy on what it must have been like to live there in its heyday. This is a play about illusions, delusions, and dreams. The overriding message being “People become delusional when their dreams turn to fantasy.” And the corollary, “Delusion is the key to happiness.”

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Machu Picchu, Texas, will continue in the Irene Gilbert Theatre at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Boulevard, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and 7 pm on Sundays through February 17th. Call 323-960-7735 for reservations. Photo: Meghan Cox and Matt Magnusson Courtesy Stella Adler Theatre

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