Archive for month: October, 2014

Las Vegas Night with Sister Maripat

29 Oct
October 29, 2014

Many Southern Californians periodically drive up to Las Vegas to play games, gamble, watch the shows, enjoy the lounge acts, and sometimes a magician!

Well, for the next couple of weeks you can enjoy all that at an elegant venue much closer to home: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

And just who is providing this bountiful evening of laughter and fun? Sister Maripat Donovan, that’s who. And her long-time director Marc Silvia.

Additionally, who is assisting her in her hilarious efforts to explain the Catholic Church to a decidedly lay audience? You and the rest of the 1500 people who have come to hear her take on the inscrutable mysteries of the Church. You are all her captive students in this theater/classroom. Participants whom she cajoles into accepting her pronouncements without once deploying her disciplinary ruler.

But be warned: she has a wicked wit which she does not hesitate to dump on her audience. It’s mainly ad lib, unexpected and hilarious, and not at all like the disparaging jibes of Don Rickles.

Sister Maripat has perfected her solo performance as a nun since her first show, Late Night Catechism in Chicago in 1992. Since then she has written six other Catechisms and performed them for audiences around the world.

The current one in La Mirada, Late Night Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice, is built around Sister’s mission to raise funds for a struggling parish church. For this effort she has devised a prospective Vegas Night with a program of sure-fire hits for her parishioners, including a mechanical bull, karaoke, magic, board games, and bingo, for which she provides prizes such as laminated cards depicting saints and glow-in-the-dark rosaries.

And there’s no reason to pray for a win at bingo, she advises. “God invented bingo, but he doesn’t micromanage it.” she says.

And she explains the hierarchy of angels and the roles of saints, noting that St. Augustine was virtually obsessed with angels, gathering information and writing about them incessantly. “He was a man who had way too much time on his hands,” she asserts.

In all this she engages the audience, asking them questions and incorporating them into her magic act. She plays blackjack with them and turns a white dove into a black dog. And she answers questions. “Do you think priests should marry?” someone asks, and she replies “Well, if they love each other very much.”

“Do you think women will ever be able to become priests?” she is asked. “Don’t hold your breath,” Sister responds. “For one thing, you have to look like Christ, and you have to be a Jewish carpenter.”

And she explains, succinctly, the difference between a venial sin and a mortal one. “If I steal a candy bar from a 711, that’s a venial sin,” she says. “But it’s a mortal sin if I shoot the clerk.”

Finally, she identifies behavioral rights and wrongs as stipulated by Catholic doctrine. It often depends on your intention, she observes, but if you’re in doubt, just remember “If you BELIEVE it’s wrong, it IS wrong.”

Sister Maripat and her Late Night Catechism will run through November 16th, with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2.

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is located at 14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada, near where the 91 and 5 freeways meet. Call (562) 944-9801 for tickets.

And for a special treat at Christmastime, plan to see Sister’s Christmas Catechism at the Laguna Playhouse.

A Witch in Time With a Halloween Rhyme

22 Oct
October 22, 2014

The play begins as the story of Hansel and Gretel—as told from the witch’s point of view. You just wouldn’t believe what a naughty little girl that Gretel is! As is the witch, because cooking a little boy is a naughty thing to do, even if you are a really good cook.

The play is Broomstick by New Orleans author and playwright John Biguenet, and his star is the always delicious and delightful Jenny O’Hara. (You may remember her cajoling her actor/husband, Nick Ullett, to authenticate a Jackson Pollock painting in the long-running megahit Bakersfield Mist.)

In Broomstick O’Hara is the unrecognizable, unnamed witch who beguiles the audience with an 80-minute monologue about the events in her life, the evils in the world, and her abiding malevolence toward men. She is equivocal and defensive about her witchiness, however, condemning her neighbors for seeing things around her that are not as they seem. Or are they?

She tells of an incident in the woods where a group of her male Appalachian neighbors beat three “Negroes” to death for taking, without permission, some fruit and pie from a demented old woman. Outraged, the witch inflicts punishment on the killers, not unlike the punishments meted out to the Pharaoh in biblical times. “Large animals are not the best,” she advises. “It’s better to kill with bugs.”

Playwright Biguenet apparently has a special thing for old crones. “To me, witches aren’t something exotic,” he says. “They are always old women, independent and unsentimental, and they really have no use for men.” Moreover, he continues, “You can’t fool a witch. That’s why they frighten people.”

For witches, he believes, the source of their power is language. “She can cast spells and curse us, and when she cackles it raises the hair on your neck.”

The source of Biguenet’s power is language as well. And O’Hara delivers it with just the right blend of anger, indignation, and sly humor. And it takes a while for the audience to discover that the dialogue is all in rhyme. Iambic pentameter, unevenly spaced so that sometimes the listener must wait for half a paragraph for the rhyme to show up. It’s a fascinating way to tell a story.

Saving the best for last, I must tell you about Andrew Hammer’s extraordinary set design. One of the best ever. It’s the inner room of the witch’s house, complete with big stone fireplace, lit candles everywhere, and a lifetime’s worth of clutter. Every nook and cranny is crammed with empty Mason jars, cauldrons, various places to sit, and witchy accoutrements. But no gumdrops, cupcakes, or gingerbread men.

The setting is enhanced by Jennifer Edwards’ spooky lighting design: the stage goes dark and bluish when the witch is telling one of her “clarifying” fantasies.

Stephen Sachs, who directed this phantasmagorical epic, has done his usual magic, but the play is for grownups, not for kids. The language and the references are esoteric and need to be vigorously listened to—like getting into the rhythm of Shakespeare. Further, O’Hara, who does a masterful job of ranting and raving, sometimes descends into a whisper that swallows the point she is trying to make.

So just look at Broomstick as a Halloween treat from the fabulous Fountain Theatre. And think, it’s better than toilet paper all over your lawn!

Broomstick will run Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 through November 30th, with a 6 pm curtain on October 31st (Halloween) and playgoers invited to come in costume.

The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Call (323) 663-1525 for tickets or go online to www.FountainTheatre.com

Photo: Jenny O’Hara as the Witch
Photo by Ed Krieger

Promises for the Future, If There Is One

14 Oct
October 14, 2014

By the second weekend of the run the leading male role had been taken over permanently by the understudy. And another of the actors had “taken off for the evening” and her role was being executed by an alternate. Not an auspicious second weekend for award-winning director Elina de Santos.

The play is Vince Melocchi’s Nice Things, which is currently having its rocky World Premiere with the usually excellent Rogue Machine. The title is meant to be ironic, I guess, because there is nothing “nice” about the play. Obliquely, it refers to the “nice things” that ordinary working-class people strive to acquire. And that soldiers give their lives for.

Nice Things deals with the after-effects of the death of a soldier, Danny, in Afghanistan. His fiancée, Amy (Connor Kelly-Eiding), is suffering not only from his loss but also from guilt, since it was she who persuaded him to enlist in the National Guard.

The two of them had believed the sales pitch of recruiter Bobbie Jo Gunning (Rebekah Tripp), who told them about the paychecks that would be coming in, the college tuition and books that he would be eligible to receive, and the limited duty required by the Guard. Moreover, she assured him that he would not have to go overseas.

After Danny’s death Amy becomes obsessed with exposing Bobbie Jo’s “recruiting lies,” and engages a young radio reporter, Justin Dumont (Michael Hanson) to help her. She gets his attention by seducing him in a clunky sort of way.

Another almost-seduction scene, which is pretty much irrelevant, takes place between Bobbie Jo and her lover, Sandy (Amy K. Harmon).

This play, had it been mounted better and if it had a better cast, might have provided a provocative evening. As it is, however, the cast mostly mumbles their lines and delivers them as if they were still learning them.

The best of the bunch is Rebekah Tripp, who delivered her recruiting pitch articulately, with conviction and clarity.

Another element that doesn’t quite make it is Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s scenic design, which consists mainly of large screens on which various unidentified scenery is projected over and over. One repeated scene is of a train rushing through a farm-like countryside. Another is of a dilapidated house in a forest. And then there’s a grainy image of part of an American flag that periodically pops up. This background imagery might have worked better if the audience were seated perpendicularly to the screens. But in this particular theater the main aisle is right down the center of the auditorium and the seats fan out at an angle, so the audience‘s view of the screens is unavoidably skewed.

Playwright Vince Melocchi confesses that his aim with Nice Things is to acknowledge that there is a cost for everything we do, everything we have and want. “Nothin’ costs nothin’,” he says. “Our small towns are being destroyed by poverty because so many jobs are going overseas. These towns are filled with nothing but memories of better days,” and, he adds, young people have no alternative but the military. So, he concludes, “Hopefully, after seeing this play, when people hear about a soldier dying in the war, they’ll take a moment and think… That person gave their life for our freedom, and that needs to be acknowledged, recognized, and honored.”

It’s a nice thought, but unfortunately the actions and the dialogue of the players don’t convey that lofty message.

Nice Things will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3 through November 23rd at Rogue Machine, 5041 W. Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles. Call 855-585-5185 for reservations.

Photo: Michael Hanson and Connor Kelly-Eiding
Photo by Jon Perrin Flynn

A “Decent” Life According to Heinrich Himmler

07 Oct
October 7, 2014

As a young man, he was convinced that nobody liked him. But by the time he was in his early 20s Heinrich Himmler had become the Chief Sycophant of the most popular man in Germany: Adolf Hitler. There he was, always at Hitler’s right elbow and just a step behind. You might say he was Hitler’s Dick Cheney. And he no longer craved affection. What he was after was respect.

In a stunning new documentary by writer/director Vanessa Lapa and the Israeli Film Council, the history of Germany’s rise and fall is told through the eyes of Himmler, as recorded in his private diaries, letters, documents, and photographs. The film is called The Decent One.

Heinrich Himmler was born in 1900 to a Royal Bavarian teacher who apparently had enough clout to be able to invite an unnamed Royal Highness to be his son’s godfather. And Heinrich, as a young boy, recorded that the Princes Heinrich and Arnulf had come to tea.

Too young to participate in the First World War, he spent his time playing piano, collecting stamps, and deploying his toy soldiers to assuage his dismay that he couldn’t “join the brawl.”

Still a student at war’s end, he entered Munich University and wrote, “I study because it is my duty.” He also noted in his diary “I never reveal my troubled thoughts and my struggling soul,” and ruminated on the fact that “People don’t like me because I talk too much. Because I am such a chatterbox I have a terrible feeling of dissatisfaction and disgust. I can never shut my mouth. I am thoughtless and immature. When will I get a grip on myself? If only there was a war again! If only I could put my life on the line. It would be a pleasure.”

In 1922 he wrote “The young, undisciplined generation is a serious threat to Germany,” and the following year he joined the Nazi party. “It is an act of selflessness serving a great idea, a great cause,” he wrote.

By 1924 he was writing, “I had an inhuman amount of work today—I had to lead and restructure all of Lower Bavaria.”

In 1927 he met Margarete Boden on a train. She was seven years older than he, but they married the following year, even after he explained his philosophy of love. “A woman is loved by a real man in three ways,” he said. “As a beloved child that one must argue with, or even punish; as a wife who shares your struggles without shackling you; and as a goddess whose feet one must kiss.”

The following year they had a daughter, Gudrun, and because Himmler believed that “a good, racially pure nation that is short of children is doomed to extinction, and a nation that has many children has the benefit of world power and world domination,” they adopted a foster child, Gerhard von der Ahe.

Meanwhile Himmler was rising up the ranks. He became the head of the SS, the Police Commissioner, and the Minister of the Interior. He built and managed the first concentration camp, at Dachau, and then was responsible for building and managing all the concentration and extermination camps and forming the country’s death squads. As Chief of Police for all Germany he also ensured that half a million citizens were convicted in German courts. That included some 5,000 Communists and “other Social Democrat nuisances.”

In the decade between 1929 and 1939 he built the SS from 300 “mercenaries fighting for liberty” to an elite paramilitary unit of 250,000, and was given the job of Settlement Commissioner.

“How the Russians feel, how the Czechs feel, does not concern me at all,” he wrote. “Whether other nations live in prosperity or die from hunger interests me only insofar as we need them as slaves for our culture.”

As for the Jews, he decreed, “Out of the 10 million Jews living in Europe, two to three million should be sterilized and kept alive for labor.”

Most of the still photographs are from Himmler’s personal archives, but the grainy war footage was collected from sources around the world. The film ends with soldiers clearing out the piles of bodies from Auschwitz and a row of skeletal men waiting to be liberated. And then Himmler, who by this time had committed suicide, is heard saying, “I think you know that I am not a bloodthirsty man, and not someone who takes pleasure in difficult duties. But on the other hand, I have such strong nerves and such a great sense of duty that when I recognize something as being essential I execute it without compromise.”

But the last word belongs to Hitler. “We can have but one desire as to what is said about us,” he declared. “These German officers, these German soldiers, these German generals—they were Decent.”

This extraordinary film, The Decent One, opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Theaters on October 10th.

Photo by Kino Lorber

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