Archive for month: January, 2014

Barry McGovern Says “I’ll Go On” to Beckett

31 Jan
January 31, 2014

Have you ever listened intently to someone explaining, succinctly and articulately, an esoteric concept you never understood before, until you suddenly exclaimed triumphantly, “Aha! I got it!” Only to discover, a moment later, when someone asks you to explain it to them, that the whole explanation has disappeared like a puff of smoke and your mind is completely blank? Once, when we lived in Norway, my husband and I went to a lecture where the featured speaker was Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin spoke in Russian and an interpreter translated his remarks into Norwegian. We didn’t speak either language, but as I sat there nodding and smiling, and laughing when everyone else did, I really felt I was getting the gist of the conversation. Until my husband, apparently impressed with my heretofore-unsuspected language skills, asked me what was being said. And I realized that I didn’t have a clue! And so it is with Beckett. Samuel Beckett is one of my favorite playwrights. But I have to admit that a great deal of my enjoyment comes from the pleasure and satisfaction of actually “getting” what he’s talking about. Sometimes. Beckett speaks a language all his own and, combined with shouts and outbursts and stillness and non-sequiturs, it could be Norwegian. But as articulated by Barry McGovern, considered one of the finest interpreters of Beckett’s work, the words just sing. McGovern, a former member of Ireland’s Abbey Theater Company, has performed in many of Beckett’s plays, including an award-winning production of Waiting for Godot at the Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum in 2012. (In that same year Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, starring John Hurt, was presented at the Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre.) McGovern has come to Los Angeles once again under the auspices of the CTG and with director Colm O’Briain, founder of Ireland’s first multi-media venue and artists’ cooperative, to present a stupendous one-man compendium of a Beckett trilogy that he first introduced at Dublin’s Gate Theatre in 1985. Working then and now with author, reviewer, and educator Gerry Dukes, McGovern selected dramatic excerpts from three of Beckett’s novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, and all alone on a virtually empty stage, he creates three unforgettable characters. The first, Molloy, is a crotchety, rumpled old man who delivers a long, rambling narrative while riding his bicycle to his mother’s house. He has adventures with people and a dog along the way, and a constable who arrests him

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for sitting on his bicycle in a lewd manner, and finally, he launches into a long digression about his habit of sucking stones and moving them systematically from one pocket to the next in his jacket and his coat. The second character, Malone, is introduced lying prone on what appears to be a coffin. It’s actually his bed in an asylum or a hospital (Malone is not sure which), but he is preparing himself to die as he talks about his life (“I eat and excrete,” he says) and the people he interacts with in the asylum. “I shall die tepid,” he declares, and “I forgive nobody.” And finally, there is the man so obscure that he is introduced as “the unnamable.” Who he is and where he is is undetermined, and his monologue is existential, ranting, and largely incoherent. He is confused and fearful, of oblivion, of death, and of silence. But his last words are “I’ll go on.” And for McGovern, it’s on to a standing ovation. I’ll Go On continues Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sunday at 1 pm and 6:30 pm through February 9th at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., in Culver City. For tickets call 213-628-2772.

On the Road to Oblivion

29 Jan
January 29, 2014

Anton Chekhov reportedly said, “If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, if must fire in the last.” The same might be said about golf clubs. In Timothy McNeil’s The Twilight of Schlomo, now having its world premiere at The Elephant Space in Hollywood, there is indeed a set of golf clubs stuffed into a black trash bag in the corner of Richard (nee Schlomo Berger)’s seedy apartment. And, true to Chekhov’s Law, they are swung by the end of the last act. Conversely (or perversely), however, another potential “law” is overlooked: “If you introduce a character, try to make sure he shows up at some point in the play.” In a funny opening monologue, Richard (a grubby but appealing Jonathan Goldstein) introduces himself and the bevy of flaky neighbors that surround him. These include a drug dealer who sells only heroin, a transvestite hooker, a “creepy guy” who Richard suspects is a serial killer, and the most appalling of all—Texans! A promising group, but after this brief mention, none of them appears, nor are they mentioned again—except for the Texans. The transvestite hooker might have been a neat addition. Richard, who has a propensity for strippers (he married and divorced two of them), now lives, twice a week, with Galina, a former “exotic dancer” who is studying for her Master’s in Eastern European and Russian poetry at UCLA. (Galina is played by Kelly Hill, alternating with Vera Cherny.) Richard also has a stepdaughter named RFK (Lilan Bowden) whom he hasn’t seen in years. She suddenly shows up, full of warmth and affection for Richard, whom she calls “Poppy”, and explains to Galina that she was named for Bobby Kennedy because her mother admired him, “not for his politics, but his hair.” Richard, who had been a stand-up comic for 15 years, tells of blowing his chance to appear on the

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to the show.” Asked if he had met Johnny Carson, he responds, “I think so. But his face was melting, so I’m not sure it was him.” Richard is currently a wine salesman, but that isn’t what he drinks throughout the play. He guzzles beer or bourbon, smokes pot from an emerald green bong he calls “Princess,” and snorts endless lines of cocaine with his Texan neighbor (Danny Parker). “If you are living paycheck to paycheck, it’s always best to spend whatever’s left on the most addictive stuff you can get your hands on,” Richard says. And he feels secure because he has a “solid cushion” of $450 in savings. According to Galina, Richard is “just a bad habit with slightly addictive properties,” but, she admits, “he is warm, and he listens.” “Women hate me, but they seem to be drawn to me,” Richard says, adding that sex is “the only thing I’m good at, and it keeps me feeling good about myself.” But feeling good about himself is only a “sometime” thing with

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Richard. He is aware that his addictions will eventually kill him, and he faces his “twilight” with anger and despair. Meanwhile, in an effort to bond with him, RFK has decided to become a Jew and begins a rigorous round of studying the Torah. But that’s another whole sub-plot, in a play made up of disassociated sub-plots and discordant characters. Ironically, under director David Fofi, the actors all do a commendable job. Now, if we could only figure out where playwright McNeil is going with the play. The Twilight of Schlomo will play Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm through February 9th at The Elephant Space, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Call 323-960-4442 for tickets. Richard/Schlomo (Jonathan Goldstein) and “the minyon” Photo by Joel Daavid

How to Unmarry a Millionaire

19 Jan
January 19, 2014

Ron Barlow is an unsuccessful middle-aged screenwriter who wants a divorce. The problem is that he had signed a pre-nup with his millionaire wife that stipulated that if he divorced her, he would get none of her money. But if she divorced him, he’d get a tidy chunk. So begins Day Trader, Eric Rudnick’s twisted mish-mash of a play that leads the viewer through a sea of red herrings before the marriage lands on the rocks. To convince his wife, Brenda, that he is divorce-worthy, Ron (an earnest Danton Stone) begins by claiming that their 15-year-old daughter Juliana (Brighid Fleming) is in need of therapy. Juliana, the consummate brat, is rude, sarcastic, and foul-mouthed. What she needs more than therapy is a good smack. Under duress, however, Juliana agrees to 10 sessions with a “psychotherapist” named Bridget (Murielle Zuker), whom we have already met as a waitress in an earlier scene. Juliana has met her as well, we later learn, but she goes along with the “therapy” sessions, lying her way through Bridget’s questions, accusing her father of abuse, and being “persuaded” to take the story where Bridget wants it to go. The key question is, “What does Juliana know and when did she know it?” Meanwhile, Ron has decided to become a day trader in the stock market and is taking a

course to learn how. The course consists of 25 taped sessions narrated by a woman who sounds like Scarlett Johansson (but is actually Mo Gaffney), but if you think that the “tips” she’s providing have any relation to the rest of the play, I wish you’d explain them to me. And to Ron, since he’s already $23,000 in the hole. Tim Meinelschmidt, who plays Ron’s best friend, Phil, rounds out the cast, and the plot, by encouraging his buddy to live a little. And by advising him on how to dress to attract a woman. Brenda, the soon-to-be-divorced wife, doesn’t appear onstage, but she makes her unseen presence felt through the pithy notes for Ron that she distributes everywhere. They are notes one might find in a fortune cookie, but these are mostly from Shakespeare. And again, the messages don’t relate to what’s going on onstage. Director Steven Williford, whose background includes directing four network soap operas (NBC’s Days of Our Lives, et al) does as well as can be expected with a good cast and a lame script. The other Stephen, Stephen Gifford, who has designed sets all over California and has been named LA Scenic Designer four years in a row by StageSceneLA, has designed a lovely set for Day Trader. It consists of large, brightly colored abstract panels by projection designer Adam Flemming. But, like almost every other accouterment in this production, the projections have little relation to the rest of the play. Except when one of them flashes the title of that day’s trading lesson for Ron. And finally, there is the drummer, Josh Imlay, who sits in the corner and emphasizes the current mood of the play by drumming ferociously or quietly as four black-garbed women move the scenery around. This world premiere of Day Trader is presented by Bootleg Theater and Small American Productions. It will run Thursday through Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 2 through February 16th at The Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles. For tickets, call 213-389-3856 or visit www.bootlegtheater.org. Photo: Danton Stone, Brighid Fleming, and Tim Meinelschmidt Photo by Ed Krieger

Just Say “Aaaah!”

15 Jan
January 15, 2014

She is a published poet who once wrote a prose poem about feet. He has a foot fetish. Obviously, they were

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made for each other. But that isn’t how they meet. In Kate Fodor’s hilarious new romantic comedy, Rx, now having its Los Angeles premiere at The Lost Studio, she comes to him as a potential client. He is a research doctor conducting a clinical trial for a gazillion-dollar pharmaceutical company. The pill he is testing is supposed to cure workplace depression. She is the editor of a magazine for swine farmers and she hates her job. So she applies to become one of his guinea pigs. Jonathan Pessin is the doctor, Phil, whose bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired. He is still conscience-stricken for having sworn at a little boy who bit him during an examination. Mina Badie is the editor, Meena, who prides herself on the fact that she never cries in the office. She goes to a nearby department store and cries in the department that sells oversized underpants for fat ladies (“those big white panties that look like the sails on a boat,” she explains). And so she becomes part of the drug trial and comes to see him every couple of weeks. The drug, called SP9 to 5, doesn’t seem to be curing her depression, but she is feeling better because she believes she will begin to feel better “any minute now.” In the meantime, they fall in love. And she does begin to feel better. But is it the pill or Dr. Phil that is transforming her from a “depressed worker” to a zealously obsessive workaholic? The plot is simple—nothing terribly profound—but it becomes a modern classic by virtue of the supporting characters and the extraordinary actors who play them. Noel Coward, eat your heart out. Chief among them is Kirsten Kollender as Allison, the tall blonde office manager/marketing consultant/martinet who emphasizes and enforces “the rules” by smacking everyone with her clipboard and wrinkling her nose. She steals the show every time she appears onstage with her bouncy, self-confident stride. Then there is Michael Dempsey as Richard, who comes up with the marketing campaign for the new pill (Allison bolsters his confidence by calling him “a Sherpa for consumers”). Dempsey also plays Ed Morgon, a rumpled doctor who delivers the funniest bit in the entire play. Which is saying a lot, because this play is laugh-out-loud funny all the way through. Rounding out the superb cast is K Callan, a sweetly ditzy old lady that Meena encounters in the underpants department, and James Donovan, her nerdy boss at the magazine. And masterfully guiding the whole production is director John Pleshette, who keeps everyone moving expeditiously through a minimal set that he designed. It’s a clever use of a small space, with a rack of underwear representing the department store and a single desk and an examining table representing the necessary offices. Rx will continue at The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 through March 1st. Call 323-960-7780 for tickets. Photo: Kirsten Kollender and Jonathan Pessin Photo by Michael Lamont

Who’s Afraid of the Wolf of Wall Street?

06 Jan
January 6, 2014

If your idea of entertainment is watching a crowd of mostly naked people indulging in continual sexual orgies, all together at parties and in their offices, popping Quaaludes and sniffing endless lines of coke and freaking out

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afterwards, masturbating in public at the sight of a beautiful woman, standing on a desk top and urinating into a wastebasket, shoving candles up a man’s anus, tossing dwarfs at a dart board, and Leonardo DiCaprio licking and pawing and hitting on every female that crosses his path, then The Wolf of Wall Street is the film for you—all three hours of it! Perhaps director Martin Scorsese believed that if this film were pitched as a “comedy” the audience would guffaw its way through it. And many of them did. (But, ironically, this film is classified as a “documentary” on Fandango.) It wasn’t that it was shocking, it was just distasteful. And pointless. And repeating everything over and over didn’t make it more fascinating. Can sex really be that tedious? On the other hand, the “Wall Street” part of the story was truly engaging, albeit unnerving. With DiCaprio berating and exhorting them every step of the way, a bunch of semi-literate losers were transmogrified into a smooth-talking, persuasive team of successful stockbrokers, screwing every client in the daytime and any woman at night. DiCaprio dominated every scene he was in (and that was ALL of them), delivering motivational speeches, pep rally grunts, and a penchant for uninhibited wackiness that he’s never demonstrated before. He was Gatsby turned inside out. DiCaprio’s sidekick in this endeavor was Jonah Hill, and he supplied most of the “comedy.” As did Matthew McConaughey, in a brief cameo, explaining everything one needed to know in order to maintain his cool in the pressured atmosphere of Wall Street. Margot Robbie underplayed the role of DiCaprio’s compliant wife and Rob Reiner overplayed the role of DiCaprio’s father. He was over the top and a totally unnecessary addition to the story. The assorted stockbrokers, who started out pitching penny stocks, worked their way up to multi-million dollar transactions and fancy clothes and cars, but you wouldn’t want to take their calls on your iPhone. Mostly because it was literally impossible for them to construct a sentence without the use of the “f” word. (The word was used 506 times in the course of the movie, a new all-time record for f-bombs, according to the critics who counted them.) But also because they would invent all sorts of enticements to get you to buy whatever junk they were pushing that day. Stock fraud was the game they played and eventually it all unraveled, thanks to the persistence of a “straight arrow” FBI agent, Kyle Chandler, who couldn’t be bribed. The Wolf of Wall Street comes from a book of the same name by Jordan Belfort, and DiCaprio uses Belfort’s name for his character. The others in the film, all real people from Belfort’s apparently “true story,” were given new names. And screenwriter Terence Winter fashioned the

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whole thing into this film that many have called “One of the Best of 2013.” Who ARE those people? The Wolf of Wall Street opened in Los Angeles on Christmas Day and is playing now all over the city. You’d be hard-pressed to avoid it. Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio and his stockbrokers toss the dwarfs.

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