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Long Way Down


Written by Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros

Written by Nate Eppler


Directed by Steve Jarrard


This is a dark play. Set in a small town north of Nashville, in a run-down family home, one sister in jail, another mentally challenged, and the third, with forlorn husband in tow, controlling and abusive.  Add to this a religious maniac for a family friend hell bent on saving the town's babies from their terrible families and you have all the ingredients for mayhem and disaster.


“The Long Way Down” is all about what can happen when we wallow in our own misery, and in this particular story it certainly is true that misery makes for very strange bedfellows.  Written by the award-winning playwright Nate Eppler, “Long Way Down,” which refers to how far it is from heaven to earth, speaks to our basic need for good to win over evil and for some semblance of balance to exist in our world, however much it might be falling apart.


A good deal of effort has been spent on the staging of this play and to great effect.  The set creates a very real sense of place and really sustains the performances. The inventive and sometimes shocking direction was equally impressive.
Each and every actor in this piece is perfect for their roles.  In such a dramatic and often distressing play, casting well is all the more imperative.  “Long Way Down" is superbly cast and they all spin this story brilliantly.


This play is not for everyone, and it takes a brave company of actors to take it on and to do it justice. I think perhaps the theme of the play is a metaphor for the lunacy at large in our world right now, and our hopes for that lunacy to have some meaning is maybe the point, But, in the end, every piece of art we see becomes what is most often in our own minds. There is some violence and some disturbing subject matter, so be aware, but what does occur is not just for effect exactly and it works within the context of the story very well.  “Long Way Down” is a bit of a puzzle and a challenge at times. I’m still dwelling on it days on from the show, but the heart of it is profound and real. Isn’t that what makes good theatre? “The Long Way Down” is playing at The Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 91601. Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm  http://www.collaborativeartistsensemble.com/index2.html

THEATRE REVIEW #754 - Long Way Down

“It’s Bizarre, It’s Creepy – But Magnetically Engaging At The Same Times – “Long Way Down” Is Different”

Written By Lorenzo Marchessi

Collaborative Artists Ensemble presents one of the most interestingly creepy productions I have seen in a long while. Although motivated by a religious thread of ‘god told me too’ mentality, “Long Way Down” generated an extreme uncomfortable feeling as the story unfolded and it was performed at the Sherry Theatre in North Hollywood. Not that this is bad thing, but it definitely makes you wonder if there are real people who think this way and do this kind of thing.

Written by Nate Eppler and directed by Steve Jarrard, (who also did the very definitive scenic design) – it tells the story of a lady who for personal, religious and somewhat overblown self-righteous reasons – sees the need to kidnap, kill and bury children. There. I said it. Now for me it was the performance that kept me glued. Their high energy and over the top insanity something like this subject matters needs to feel ‘real’.

Lauri Hendler plays Karen and she is the woman who has this religious mission combined with a psychotic need to steal and kill babies that is so bizarre and so wrong- that it was her performance that glued me to the stage. Often wild-eyed and demanding, yet sympathetic to Meg’s character – while lying through her teeth – Lauri gives a perfect ‘villain’ performance in a non-villain role. I loved just despising what she represented. I had to unplug my mind to remind myself she was an actress and did a good job making me dislike her character. That’s good acting.

Meg Wallace plays Maybeline a mentally challenged adult who only has her focus of life on simple things and understanding what her family around her is saying and doing. Meg was perfect with the innocence and confusion and played the trying make sense of her slower cogitative abilities and feel safe. Her interactions with Lauri sparked everything from sympathy, to angst and genuine concern from the audience as to what her part will eventually end up being. No spoilers here, but the end, although somewhat forecasted, is still raw and shocking.

Christa Haxthausen plays Saralee wife of Duke and one of the most domineering women, although a little more centered than everyone else, she still gives a very organized delivery of what is happening. She clears the soul of Duke, she completely sympathizes and has the best interests for Maybeline and yet she too has a small part in this mess that eventually catches up with her.

Lane Wray plays Duke and he is the husband of Saralee who needs to deal with the insanity of everyone in this household. Lane is angry most of the time and almost uncaring about both his poor situation and his wife and her sister’s obsession with stealing babies.

Again, a little stretched for believably, it still was an interesting showcase of religious has motivated historical people to do some horrific and literally insane things.

Filled with adult language and clearly a subject matter not for young people, “The Long Way Down” was definitely engaging – as much as it was upsetting. Not a big fan of over-the-top twists on what are probably really disturbed people out there – I again, enjoyed the performances overall and just had issues with the subject matter. You should check it out for yourself. Check them out at CollaborativeArtistsEnsemble dot com and tell them Lorenzo sent you from FaceBook dot com/TheGeekAuthority !

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NOHO ARTS DISTRICT

December 1, 2016

IN THE BALANCE

Written by Radomir Vojtech Luza

If you are interested in a play about five people inhabiting a haunted house in Big Sur overlooking the ocean, run, don't walk, to the Collaborative Artists Ensemble production of A. David Redish's West Coast Premiere of "In The Balance" running at Studio/Stage on North Western Avenue in Los Angeles through December 11th.

This is the story of a college professor, his overly sensitive wife and their new baby.

When they are visited by an old college friend and his young girlfriend from Mexico City, reality begins to crumble and morals, ethics, and values are lost to trivial jealousies and haunted mysteries without a soul.

Redish's language is crisp, startling and electric.

From A to Z, the play itself is an exercise in intensity, sexuality, and lunacy.

This is not so much a play as a Greek psycho drama of epic and alien proportions that even at the end leaves a lot of plates hanging in the air and we, the audience, wondering exactly what it is that we have just seen. Redish seems to revel in the psychologically obstructive, personally challenging and universally accepted, but individually rejected, mental, emotional and spiritual forays into this Garden of Eden of insanity and madness. Every moment licks the ocean of fear and doubt and sparks violent waterfalls breaking into darkest rivers. It is not enough to call this play a drama.

 The distinguished McKnight University Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota whose books include "The Mind Within the Brain"and "Beyond The Cognitive Map" and earlier plays include "Beth" and "Kalypso" allows us an acute and sharp look at two dysfunctional couples and their coping techniques that in the end leave you almost as unbalanced and unhinged as they are.

Steve Jarrard's direction allows the actors the chance to flex their muscles. Jarrard knows when to let his talented quartet gallop, trot, and walk.  His even-handed and fair style of direction proves a great success here as he knows when to step in and when not to.

The company's managing director has directed many of the ensemble's productions dating back eight years and eighteen productio;ns ("City of Dreadful Night," "The Square Root of Wonderful," "Lost Generation," "A Strange Disappearance of Bees," "Through A Glass Darkly"). Here Jarrard assembles a wonderfully gifted cast that understands and comprehends the steep cliffs, pointed jetties and bloody valleys of Redish's words.

Stand-outs include: Laura Gudino (Alicia) gives a courageous and convincing turn that puts her Mexican roots on the map as an emerging actress in the City of Angels. Daunting, daring, and dynamic, this is a characterization not to be missed. It brings the Second Act into focus and allows us the chance to witness a strong actress and character.

Peter Nikkos (Kostya) almost runs away with the play with a portrayal both parts naturalistic and sensitive. The Greek-born and Chicago-trained actor brings a welcome fluidity and strength to the proceedings that highlight his spontaneity, generosity and artistic risk-taking. The veteran screen actor uses the same talented chops in this his debut Ensemble performance as he does in countless film and television projects.

But it is Meg Wallace (Cass) who steals the show. The Ensemble founding member and longtime actress gives perhaps her most commanding and dominant portrayal yet as the wife opposite Brain Graves' college professor Matt.

The veteran stage and screen actress brings a vulnerability and sexuality to her work here reminiscent of Carol Baker in her heyday ("Baby Doll," "The Carpetbaggers").

Wallace's tenderness and charm are especially apparent in Act Two as her character's split personality (Cass/Diane) comes to the fore and Wallace's God-given acting instinct takes over, We are transported to a world of love and longing, gingerbread and ginger spice and ice cream and cheesecake where everything seems pretty, innocent and substantive, but nothing really is.

 The New York-trained thespian and Marymount Manhattan College student has a deeply and wonderfully elastic quality. It matters little what direction she is pulled on stage, Wallace always comes back in one piece.

The Los Angeles based actress has yet to give a bad performance in any production that this critic has seen her in. Hopefully we will see her treading the boards of the Southland again very soon. It is a treat Los Angeles theatre lovers should give themselves for as long as they can.

Furthering the message of the play are Jason Ryan Lovett's lighting design and Michele Prudente and Jarrard's sound design.

All in all, "In The Balance," which had its World Premiere in Denver, succeeds because of its originality, not despite it.

This modern day struggle between good and evil, insanity and sanity and love and hate shows us what it is to be human and the circular and curved path we take to embrace our full power and humility. The haunting of the house here appears secondary to the ruling hand the baby has over both Matt and Cass and the straight path it chooses to take without turning back.

In Redish's universe, no one is in his or her comfort zone. Therefore, everyone is busy taking bold risks and often succeeding., The play, which has a ten minute intermission and really picks up steam in the Second Act, is written and directed bravely and begs many questions, foremost among them, if the world is round, why are so many of us taking straight paths to our goals and dreams?

This production proves that not only all is well at the Ensemble, but that it has grown into one of the most artistically capable and productive companies in the city.

This is a fearless bunch of renegades unafraid of space or time. If space is curved, this group of writers, directors, actors and theatre artists has decided to go home.

And as Redish seems to be saying, that is the fastest way to "turn around and face (whatever) it (is). Because you can't run." Everyone here is standing still in front of the mirror. With eyes wide open.

 By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Theatre Critic

Showtimes:
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.
The performance on Saturday, December 10 will be at 2 p.m. instead of at 8 p.m.

Admission: $20

Information/Reservations: (323) 860-6569 |  Tickets>>

Where: Studio/Stage, 520 North Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90004

http://nohoartsdistrict.com/theatres/theatre-reviews/item/4846-in-the-balance

Life hangs “In The Balance” at Studio Stage
LA POST EXAMINER

by Ron Irwin

November 16, 2016

The eerie mood is immediately set as the show opens with two very ghostly figures. Soon a man a woman and a baby are brought into the scene. Matt [Brian Graves] is a college professor and Cass [Meg Wallace] a former dancer is his wife. The location is a beautiful cliff side home in which one would think life is as beautiful as the view. But we soon learn that there are troubles, deep disturbing troubles perhaps haunting the home or even more likely haunting its occupants Matt and Cass.

What quickly becomes obvious is the presence of some other worldly powers that are impacting Matt and Cass, but the full extent of these negative ghostly forces are profoundly amplified when old friend Kostya [Peter Nikkos] shows up very unexpectedly along with his girlfriend Alicia [Laura Gudino]. It doesn’t take long for the deep dark secrets of their past lives to begin to emerge.

There was a death of a beloved friend. Was it accidental or was it murder? Did it even actually happen? What secrets were being held burning inside Matt and Kostya? What really is the true role of Cass in this dark mystery? And is it the home or the people or all involved who are haunted by ghosts and if so, ghosts of what exactly?

By the end of Act One it became apparent to me that somewhere within the context of the show was at the minimum a large dose of psychosis. As the story progressed it became ever darker and truly haunting. But at least for me at some point it became a bit overwhelming simply trying to fully grasp the full extent of the tale being told. And to my eye the cast sometimes seemed a bit too rigid.
All that said it clearly is a wild ride on the dark side and into to a realm reaching way beyond normal conscious thought. Consequently I conclude that this West Coast premiere of In the Balance, written by A. David Redish and directed by Steve Jarrard, absolutely grabs and holds the full attention of the audience.

Are you in the mood for something very unique and more than a little scary? In the Balance runs now through December 11th 2016 at the Studio/Stage Theatre, 520 N. Western Avenue, Los Angeles, California. Show times are Fridays and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. with two exceptions. It is dark on Friday, November 25th and on Saturday, December 10th curtain will be at 2:00 p.m. Reservations can be made by calling 323-860-6569 and tickets may be purchased online HERE.

http://lapostexaminer.com/life-hangs-balance-studio-stage/2016/11/16

IN THE BALANCE

December 6, 2016
by Mary E. Montero

Do you believe in ghosts? ~ Cass

 
This show reminded me of the 1990s CBS program, “American Gothic” starring  Gary Cole as the ominous Sheriff Lucas Buck. To anyone who remembered this addicting show, Buck was a corrupt individual who preyed on the vulnerabilities of others. He is an evil entity with a charismatic smile and a knife behind his back ready to strike. The same could be said for the two ghosts who haunt a fragile married couple in their home by the ocean.

Matt and Cass (Brian Graves and Meg Wallace) have been married for four years and share a 3-week old infant daughter Ann Grace. They still are debating about the name. One stormy night, is there any other kind, their friend Kostya and his fiancée Alicia, (Peter Nikkos and Laura Gudino) drop in. Matt questions why Kostya decided to suddenly make a visit. The men reminisce while Cass and Alicia check on Cass’ daughter.

 Later in the evening, Kostya suggests to play the Ouija board. Matt and Cass, at first, are reluctant but give in. Both couples roll out the mat, light some candles and begin to play. The first word that pops out is URGENT. That’s when they all realize it’s too late to stop. Cass feels another presence in the room. She tells Matt how cups and saucers mysteriously fall and shatter when no one is in the room. The nightly howls she hears and the shadows she sees creeping outside their home make her uneasy and worried. Matt dismisses Cass’ concerns as silly. Now that they have friends over, he believes the evening will go well.

 Or, so, he thinks. The two ashen looking ghosts (Benjamin Hoekstra and Travis Stevens) carefully guard the others and watch intently on their next moves. Soon, Matt’s first wife Diane, who committed suicide, possesses Cass. She collapses and her body wriggles into painful looking movements while Matt and the others look on hopelessly. Diane leaps out of Cass and she has many unpleasant and uncomfortable truths to admit. No one is immune.

The play is really a psychological-let-me-see-how-far-I-can-go-with-this play brilliantly written by A. David Redish. He does an excellent job traveling far in his character’s psyche and out comes a ball of of unvarnished facts that can no longer be denied or explained away. His flawed characters are widely sympathetic, even when they try to side step the past misdeeds. The main culprit is honesty being showed to the side until it’s absolutely necessary to bring it back. The half-hearted attempt to stay on the side of normalcy, even though they know their current situation is anything but normal, is clearly not working.

The four once close friends realize that you can’t go back home but you can forge a new residence built on trust and honesty. Otherwise, you’ll have a couple of ghouls supervising your every move. Not a good look.

 In the Balance plays Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 p.m. and ends this Sunday, December 11th at 7 pm, at studio/stage located at 520 N. Western Ave., in Los Angeles. For more information, call 323-860-6569 or log on to www.inthebalance.brownpapertickets.com.

http://www.allaboutthestage.com/?p=423

"City of Dreadful Night" @ Sherry Theatre in the North Hollywood Written by Radomir Vojtech Luza


"City of Dreadful Night" If you are interested in a play based on classic Hollywood Film Noir with enough twists and turns to make Mulholland Drive feel like a drive thru, run don't walk to the Collaborative Artists Ensemble's production of Don Nigro's "City of Dreadful Night" running at the Sherry Theatre in the North Hollywood Arts District through June 12th.

 
This is the story of an unusual love triangle in post WWII New York City filled with intrigue, idealism and shredded innocence. The play is based on Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" painting and the characters that inhabit it.


Nigro wastes no time in caging each character in his or her own particular hell as Act One, in particular, sets the stage for the rest of the play with its non-stop conundrums, comparisons and curiosities. Very few, if any, contemporary playwrights can pull off what Nigro does in the opening act.

 The language is wonderfully specific, detailed and strong. It leaves little to the imagination and even less for the audience to misunderstand or misconstrue.

The oft-produced playwright and winner of the Playwrighting Fellowship Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts creates realistic, fleshed-out, human characters, albeit, with gaping psychological and emotional wounds and scars that may never be healed.

 The three victims of love in this play, for example, are looking for a brass ring that they may never find. They do, however, find the fat side of of Nigro's pen.

Steve Jarrard's direction adds substance, flavor and intelligence to the proceedings. His understanding of Nigro's intense, almost animalistic, and in-your-face style makes the play that much more hard-hitting and effective. The Ensemble's Managing Director and director of many of its plays, allows the actors to work within the confines of the show, and work beautifully and bountifully, they do.

 Like an endless stream, plunging valley or undulating prairie, they grow into the very fabric of the production, the chasms and invisible corners of space and unguarded moments of time. The Southern California native has assembled a deeply gifted cast that comprehends the purpose, meaning and process of Nigro's words all too well.

Stand outs include: Meg Wallace (Anna) who almost runs away with the play as she continues her courageous work in Ensemble plays of tackling roles that require great intestinal fortitude, but do not reap glory. Here the Marymount Manhattan College student of acting displays a sensitivity and boldness that mark a convincing turn and an impressive body of work as a founding member of the Ensemble.

 But it is Ethan McDowell (Tony) who runs away with the show by giving a performance rich in compassion, tenderness and strength. The Wyoming native exhibits an unusual mix of stage presence, passion and sensitivity that results in a character who understands love and its mighty repercussions and ramifications as well as its glorious and grand possibilities. The Berg Studios and Groundlings former student naturally and convincingly masters difficult nervous ticks and habits on stage while maintaining integrity and purity. The new face of the Space Command science fiction franchise does not flinch from playing the troubled Tony. His reason, wisdom and grace leave us, the audience, transfixed in our seats, emotionally jarred and spiritually reawakened. The film and television actor's rhythm and timing on the third Saturday of the run when this critic saw the play were impeccable and daunting. I hope to see McDowell on stage in North Hollywood or Los Angeles again very soon.

"City of Dreadful Night," which runs about two hours with a ten minute intermission, then, succeeds because of the many plot twists and turns, not despite them.

 This is a powerful play with the ability to change lives. It nor its playwright should be taken lightly.

This midnight dark drama and 3 a.m. calling card is also an incredibly sweet and tender love story that belies all the pushing, pulling and peeling.

The Collaborative Artists Ensemble should not only be proud of its relationship with Nigro, whose plays it has produced a number of times, but of the very high quality of work that it has accumulated in a short span of time in Los Angeles, and mainly, North Hollywood.

This is an acting company with much already proven, but much left to prove. Its choice of material so far has been nothing less than stellar. The production of those plays, save one or two, has also been eclectic, dynamic and electric. May tomorrow (The Ensemble puts on a play every Spring and Autumn) be even more fruitful and triumphant than yesterday as this very talented acting group rides into the future with both feet on the accelerator and all appendages discarded at the very beginning of the journey.

Kudos to all. May the play this coming Fall be even more naked and raw than this one. If that is at all possible.

By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Theatre Critic

Show Times:

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m.
Tickets:
$20
Admission and Information: (323) 860-6569
Get Tickets>>

Where:
The Sherry Theatre,
11052 Magnolia Blvd.,
North Hollywood, CA 91601

Review of The Lady From The Sea Written by  Radomir Vojtech Luza Theatre Critic
Nohoartsdistrict.com

If you are interested in a play about the effect love and marriage has on a family of four struggling with time and place, do not miss the Collaborative Artists Ensemble's production of a new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's "The Lady From The Sea" running at The Actors Workout Studio in the NoHo Arts District through December 6th.

This is the story of a family of misunderstood and dysfunctional lovers and dreamers looking for a way out of the cages they have built for themselves. The tale of choices made and not made is tackled with precision and deft firmness by a theatre company possessing a unique mix of courage, tenderness and melancholic abandon.

This brilliant new adaptation of a complex psychological study of eight characters caught in their own nooses allows us, the audience, a chance to see the affect doubt, fear and anxiety have on even the strongest person. Ibsen's language is nothing less than powerful, sensitive and genuine. It leaves you disturbed yet spiritually enlightened.

he Norwegian playwright's poetic language is largely unmatched in the history of modern drama. He writes with great aplomb, charisma and charm. The ensemble bravely echoes Ibsen's themes of Nordic isolationism, naturalistic symbolism and personal turmoil. This is a fertile presentation that boldly mixes artistic agility, metaphysical musing and romantic ribaldry. It ends in a riveting final 15 minutes that leave even the most distant and cold-hearted viewer more inspired, illuminated and educated.

 Director Steve Jarrard, who is also on book as Doctor Wangel until the end of the run, weaves a hypnotic, graceful and potent tapestry of energetic movement, vivid characterization and honest dialogue that underscores Ibsen's melodramatic, momentous and muscular rhythm, sound and beat. Jarrard's direction is especially affective in Act Two as he slows down the rapid flow of the play, fleshes out the characters and relaxes the proceedings. In the end, the company's Managing Director finds light where darkness once dwelled. The director of many of the group's previous productions fearlessly assembles a stellar cast equally adept at painting broad brushstrokes, lusting after luxurious language and fueling the fire of forgotten freedom.

Standouts include: Meg Wallace (Ellida Wangel) who almost steals the show with a confident, convincing and compassionate turn. Wallace's trademark depth, sensitivity and intelligence mark another in a long line of towering and supple Ensemble portrayals that stir the imagination while enriching the very characterization. Wallace is electric, transcendent and downright uncanny as she mines the truth from scene after scene. One hopes the veteran film actress, recipient of a BA from Marymount Manhattan College and graduate of the Second City Conservatory program in Hollywood continues to walk local boards and confidently caress the cockles of her talent as a founding member of this ensemble

 It is Marielle Nilsson (Bolette Wangel), however, who runs away with the show with a performance at once substantive, daring and authentic. The native Swede and New York Film Academy acting graduate owns the role and makes her way brilliantly through Ibsen's maze of syntax, syllables and subjects. Each moment is deeply motivated, felt and realized. Nilsson captures the spirit of the play with a turn rich in possibility, pragmatism and promise. She boldly goes from emotional level to emotional level and detail to detail with the fierce abandon and intense prowess of a tightrope walker. This is an actress at the top of her game. Her acting future is as plausible as it is probable. This critic hopes to see Nilsson on stage in North Hollywood or Los Angeles again very soon.

 Furthering the message of the play are Jarrard and Wallace's production design and Jason Ryan Lovett's lighting design. All in all, "The Lady From The Sea" dives into the playwright's darkest, deepest and most dangerous waters only to emerge unscathed and the better for it. The company successfully and saliently embraces the challenge of staging a play which brokers both terror and goodness.

 As Ellida Wangel says towards the end of the play, "Once one has become a land creature, it is impossible to go back into the sea." The Collaborative Artists Ensemble, then, captures the essence of this masterwork with color, candidness and cracker jack quality.

 This, the ensemble's 16th production in eight years, displays a singular voice and collective intuitiveness that define its work. The up-and-coming theatre company exhibits a oneness and familiarity with drama that few ensembles in the city boast.

Not many companies, large or small, have attempted the kind of difficult and dogmatic material that this ensemble has in only its first decade. This critic, for one, looks forward to the upcoming season with relish, reason and a rambunctious roar. The phosphorescent glow from this year is still settling.

Performances:

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm;
Sundays at 7pm Tickets:
$20 ($15 for students/seniors)

Review of “Lost Generation @ the Sherry Theatre


Friday, 29 May 2015

Written by  Radomir Vojtech Luza - Theatre Critic

If you are interested in a play about three well known literary figures make a beaten path to the Collaborative Artists Ensemble's production of Don Nigro’s “Lost Generation” playing through June 7th at the Sherry Theatre in the NoHo Arts District.

The story of the relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway is beautifully told in language that sizzles, sparkles and solidifies their hold on us nearly 100 years after their heyday.

 This is a play about writers for writers. Yet in touching on the troubles, triumphs and toils of literary fame, it also tackles the nature of art, psychology, humanity, theology and philosophy. As a matter of fact, there is not much that this play does not address.

Coming at you like a freight train barreling down the straightaway, the play does not allow gibberish, poppycock or nonsense from its characters.

 Every syllable is important. Every word is significant. Each character is individually drawn and carries a set of opinions and circumstances that make him or her nothing less than human. This play is like an abstract painting with three paintbrushes, but one painter. It cuts, claws and creases, but never crumbles.


On the Saturday night that this critic saw the play, it took the actors about 30 minutes to settle down and talk to each other not at each other. But once the caricatures were stripped bare, each character came to life in a way that illuminated the proceedings. Nigro’s language is naked, raw and sublime. It is like a New Year’s Eve party that lasts all year. The words leave little to chance. They celebrate the three lives with subtlety, power and strength. This is poetry on stage. Imagery painting a masterpiece of trembling wrists and shattered hips with brush strokes of barley and bronze.

 Steve Jarrard’s direction is nothing less than stellar and articulate. In using every inch of the intimate Sherry stage, he lets the characters feel the sun and taste the rain. Jarrard, who is the Ensemble’s Managing Director, and has directed a number of its productions, is at his best here as he melds character and dialogue in a dizzying two hours of dogma and diatribe. This is an evening, in Jarrard’s talented eyes, that should do more than merely be, it should inspire, inform, educate and make love to us, the audience. Jarrard has chosen a wonderfully gifted cast to help him achieve these standards.

 Nicholas Forbes (Ernest) offers a deeply moving and convincing turn that brings out all of Hemingway’s trademark machismo, pathos and paranoia. But it also allows you to see the literary genius that he was. The co-founder of the Los Angeles sketch comedy group Friends with Benefits does intelligent and disciplined work here.

 Meg Wallace (Zelda) almost walks away with the play by giving a dazzling portrayal of a woman slowly losing her mind, but still capable of brilliant monologues and razor sharp observations. This is no easy characterization, but Wallace pulls it off with vulnerability, virtue and vision. She gives voice to the voiceless and life to a spirit many consider antiquated and forlorn. In so doing, the Second City Conservatory graduate nearly steals our hearts and souls as well.

 But it is Leif Steinert (Scott) who steals the show with a sensitive, electric and riveting performance that will stay with this critic forever. The New School for Drama MFA displays Fitzgerald the author, celebrity and husband with grace, dignity and aplomb. He does not let you see him sweat, curse or lose his temper. It is especially in the Second Act in which Fitzgerald lays bare his philosophy on writing that the audience gets a glimpse of his brilliance and balance as an artist and human being. Fitzgerald, who may have been the finest American writer of not only his generation, but century, makes-up for in honesty what he lacks in manners or etiquette. This is a turn for the ages. Steinert relies not only on Fitzgerald’s personal and professional history, but his own instinct and intuition regarding the writer. He not once plays Fitzgerald as a broken-down has-been of a man, but as an American wunderkind who always sees hope and love where other writers see gloom and doom. Talent of this caliber comes along rarely, but when it does, it is exciting, irreverent and fascinating, existing in a world of red sunsets, turquoise tundras and vanilla swans. This critic hopes to see Steinert on the stages of North Hollywood or Los Angeles again soon.

 “Lost Generation,” the Ensemble’s thirteenth production, is a study in opposites and similarities. While telling the tale of three world famous literary figures, its grace, grandeur and gold lift you into worlds unknown, emotions uncoiled and fears unfurled.

Also furthering the message of the play are Ashley Atwood’s unique and memorable choreography, Jason Ryan Lovett’s lighting design and Jarrard’s set design.

 This play is an immense achievement that will live on after its time and past its prime. If the world is dangerous, then the literary world is that much more difficult, and to these three characters, deliberate and deadly.

By tackling a project of this temerity, temperament and delicacy, the Ensemble proves once again that it is one of the most innovative, courageous and confident acting companies in the city, if not the country.

 It also proves, as with previous Ensemble productions such as “A Strange Disappearance of Bees” and Carson McCuller’s “The Square Root of Wonderful,” that time, tenderness and trial are the richest juices to cook a play in.

Showtimes:

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 7pm
Ticket Price: $20 at all times
Information/Admission: (323) 860-6569
Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd.,
North Hollywood, CA 91601

Lost Generation” found at The Sherry Theater

 May 25, 2015

Lost Generation, written by Don Nigro and artfully directed by Steve Jarrard who also designed the neutral set, is a shadow box portrait of the intertwined lives of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway played across continents and years and captured in one small space.

The relationships are aptly and painfully portrayed and resonate with sadness and bravado. Hemingway, played by Nicholas Forbes with carefully shaded characteristics of despair and hyper masculinity, demonstrates a man whose path to self-destruction is already written. Scott, played by Leif Stienert with a childlike quality, desperate and yearning for someone’s approval, for Hemingway’s friendship and for a faithful wife, is heartbreaking in his need. Meg Wallace inhabits the frenzy of Zelda Fitzgerald in a beautifully crafted performance on her path to insanity. The tempo of the time is clearly found in this well-crafted piece, glimpses of arch humor, double entendres and soaked in alcoholic escapism.

The title of the play, Lost Generation, was used to describe a group of young people post World War One and specifically these young writers who seemed to have a cynical worldview without social stability. Appreciative readers know so much of these authors and their words and how their lives will end, but wish better for them, almost hoping that the words of the playwright might somehow alter their orbit.

See this soon at The Sherry Theater and support local theatre.

 Lost Generation, a production of Collaborative Artists Ensemble. can be seen at The Sherry Theater located at 11052 Magnolia Blvd in NOHO through June 7th. For Tickets call 323-841-1611

 Review by Susan Ruttan, exclusive to SFVMedia.com.

http://sfvmedia.com/sfv/lost-generation-found-at-the-sherry-theater/

Modern Day Love Stories...in "How I Fell In Love"

Reviewed by Bonnie Priever
The Examiner

Rating:  Five Stars The Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre in Larchmont Village presents Collaborative Artists Production of "How I Fell In Love," written by the astute Joel Fields. He also writes and produces FX's "The Americans." This play was originally shown at the prestigious Williamstown Theatre Fest in Massachusetts, winning awards and accolades. The play involves two couples who are desperately seeking love in all the wrong places. There's Nessa (Meg Wallace) and her counterpart Todd (Austin Iredale). Todd has graduated from Berkeley, yet holds onto a lower rung job as a carpet layer. They meet 'cute' in the therapist's office, waiting for their respective appointments, to discuss failed relationships. Nessa, a hospital intern, is infatuated with Eric ( Kenny Leu), an MD; while Todd seems smitten by a flaky yet flirty actress type, Louise ( Desire Noel). Both Nessa and Todd are constantly brought down by the crushing reality of fate, as Nessa fights a losing battle with Eric, who is married and torn; while Louise slips Todd her phone number, yet never returns calls and seems otherwise engaged.


The play is full of witty, poetic dialogue, even quoting D.H. Lawrence, "We have made a great mess of love since we made an ideal of it." The plot is consumed with these young individuals, each searching for a soulmate. It covers much ground in the land of the lonely-hearts, Los Angeles. Some memorable lines include "I think a great place to meet a girl is at a car wreck." A series of therapy sessions, results in the realization for Nessa and Todd, that the best therapy are the intimate talks before each session. Eventually they fall for each other... and end up enlightened. "How I Fell In Love" is an amusing journey, well written, directed, and acted. Another fine example of the great work being produced by this gem of a theatre company. A perfect date night choice.



Stephanie Feury Theatre 5636 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles
October 17 – November 16, 2014 on Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:00pm
Tickets are $20 with a $5 discount for seniors and full-time students. Purchase tickets by phone at 323-860-6569. New paragraph

Blood Relations
 The Raven Playhouse
 Reviewed by Jose Ruiz    


As catchy as that little ditty is, the truth is that in real life the 1892 trial where Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her stepmother and father resulted in an acquittal.  Thanks to her attorney, the jury could not reach a verdict and Lizzie Borden and her sister lived out their lives amidst constant speculation about the murders, which remains even to this day.  

Playwright Sharon Pollock has added grist to this mill with her partially fictionalized telling of the events.  We are asked to imagine we are seeing a play within a play, where Lizzie Borden has hired an actress to play her character as she plays the role of Bridget, their maid at the time of the murders.  This allows for ample speculation and conjecture, while focusing a spotlight on issues that may have been overlooked in the past.

 Steve Jarrard, Managing Director of the Collaborative Artists Ensemble takes a double duty turn at acting in the brief role of Defense Attorney and also directing, with a keen sense for timing and dramatic effect.  The play depicts time fluctuating randomly from the months before the murders to the years after the trial, and it takes some serious directing and coordination to pull this off.  The overall effort results in a gripping, edge of the seat grabber that keeps you guessing for the entire play.

What we learn from the actress playing Lizzie Borden is that this young woman had a very strong personality and when she set her mind to do something she always followed through.  Meg Wallace is nothing short of amazing in this challenge where she has to play the actress playing Lizzie and the role of Lizzie herself.   Wallace takes the character from a sometimes daddy's little girl type to a ferocious adversary, determined to overcome any obstacles in her way.  Her brilliant red dress is symbolic of many issues in her life, not the least of which is the possibility that Borden could have been a real axe murderer.   She can jump from innocence to hate on a dime and keep you guessing where she will go next.

Equally impressive is Carolyn Crotty who plays the real Lizzie Borden but after her play in a play begins she assumes the role of Bridget, the maid.   Her often stoic and proper demeanor as Lizzie first shows the frame of mind she wants to display, but as she becomes Bridget, the Irish maid we see a different person emerge.  In contrast to Wallace's dress, Crotty has the look of a demure and reserved person, as her character tolerates various occasional impertinences from family members.  Her cool and controlled attitude could be a camouflage for the smoldering temperament she tries to conceal.


 The one salient fact that is clear is the hatred Lizzie harbors for Abigail, her stepmother, which is returned in-kind with innuendos and outright insults.  Deborah Cresswell is wonderful as the stepmother you love to hate.  Her character has one dimension - mean - and she's not afraid to show it.  Cresswell never lets us sympathize with her and in a perverse way, it's pretty obvious why one might do a hatchet job on her.  Hap Lawrence plays Abigail's husband and father to Lizzie and Emma.  Not quite henpecked, it's pretty evident that his wife is in charge, so to please her he often over reacts against Lizzie who is the prime irritant to the stepmother.  Lawrence creates expressions that clearly show exasperation and resignation and has the look of a man who is too exhausted to fight back and is just bidding his time to find peace.


 Other interesting characters in the mix are Emma, Lizzie's older sister played by Amy Moorman.  Emma knows what is going on but manages to turn a deaf ear and blind eye and prefers to go with her friends.  Steve Peterson plays Uncle Harry, a country type who has a keen sense of profit and knows how to take advantage of a situation so that he comes out ahead.  Then there's Lizzie's erstwhile love interest, Doctor Patrick who visits Lizzie often, teases her about running off together but knows that he can't follow through because he is married.  Jay Disney draws a roguishly charming portrait of the philandering country doctor.

Even though Borden was found "not guilty" many believe she was not innocent, and in the play the characters frequently ask "Lizzie, did you do it?"   If you believe the path author Pollock has carved out in this play, you will have a strong suspicion that the jury got the wrong verdict.  First written in 1981, it is not clear how much research went into this work and how much one can believe.  While it focuses on a dramatic real-life event, an underlying message here is how often people who are supposed to be close can be cruel to one another.  This could be a story about any family where self interests, pride, and lust for money trump the blood bond and lead to psychological mind games with could result in horrific reactions.  It may lead one to wonder how often a person has held such a strong grudge or anger against a relative that thoughts of extreme revenge may have crept into the imagination.

This is a work of fiction loosely based on an actual event - but after seeing the actors you might ask, is it?

Tickets are $20 with a $5 discount for seniors and full-time students. To purchase tickets by phone, please call the box office at 323-860-6569. Purchase tickets online at https://www.plays411.com/bloodrelations or at the door one hour prior to curtain.

  May 16 to June 15, 2014 Raven Playhouse in the NoHo Arts District

http://www.reviewplays.com/5-14-jr-blood-relations.htm

Review: Blood Relations


 June 3, 2014 by AuditionInside

By Kristina Lendrum

Works based on real people are hit or miss; whether embellishing the story to the point of fiction or failing to present the material in an interesting way, there are multiple pitfalls. So to take on that risk, as well as using an unconventional method of storytelling is no easy feat – yet it is one that Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s performance of Blood Relations, written by Sharon Pollock and directed by Steve Jarrard, pulls off with style.


Based on Lizzie Borden’s famous alleged murder of her father and stepmother, the story opens with a woman known only as The Actress (Meg Wallace) visiting with Lizzie (Carolyn Crotty). The conversation soon turns to the murders. When Lizzie finally decides to open up, things get interesting; rather than rely on mere flashbacks, Pollock chooses to have Wallace play “past Lizzie,” while Crotty takes the role of her Irish maid, Bridget.


We are introduced to the rest of the cast: Abigail and Andrew Borden (Deborah Cresswell and Hap Lawrence respectively), as well as Lizzie’s older sister Emma (Amy Moorman), Lizzie’s quasi-romantic interest Patrick (Jay Disney), Abigail’s brother Harry Wingate (Steve Peterson), and a defense attorney (the director himself, Steve Jarrard) who speaks directly to the audience. Immediately, the actors show their strength; each role, whether big or small, is grounded in true emotion – be it positive or negative.


The crowning jewel is how we are led to understand both Lizzie’s mindset and the very real, very destructive way she affects those around her. She is fiercely independent but has no way to show it, leading to her terrible frustration and increasing hatred for Abigail. Lizzie cannot seem to make anyone understand her thoughts. It’s a heart-breaking portrayal of an isolated woman, plagued by feelings she is unable to express.

Wallace shines as this “dark Lizzie.” As time passes, the character becomes more and more unstable, and by the climax, her rage is tangible. The humanity of the supporting characters lends to Lizzie’s own story – Peterson has a delightful sliminess to his performance, Lawrence’s Andrew Borden is a hot-tempered man who nonetheless loves his daughter, and Cresswell is just meddlesome enough to trigger Lizzie’s breakdown while avoiding demonization.

But what of the “present Lizzie?” Crotty plays her with painful realism, weary of her past haunting her. She has started a new life, but it is obvious that she has not escaped. Her face is drawn and her outbursts of optimism quickly give way to a tired solemnity. The last scene ends with an almost playful ambiguity, a bit jarring after the seriousness of the play’s themes. The sacredness of life, women’s roles in society, homosexuality and the societal backlash it did and still does receive are raised in the context of the play. Lizzie’s actions are her own way of responding to and coping with these limitations.

The piece is not without its flaws (it tends a bit towards melodrama) but on the whole, it works. Pollock puts a lot of thought and effort into constructing the story as the natural outcome of the human element it contains. One could argue that it attempts to justify murder. Although, the alternate concept, that it forces us to see that behind every murder (or alleged murder) is a real human being, is very thought provoking. Blood Relations may be set in the past, but the questions it raises are still relevant now. It will leave you wondering: if you were in Lizzie’s shoes, what would your answer be to the question that followed her to the grave –


“Did you?”



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BLOOD RELATIONS …North Hollywood

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

 Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock cleverly creates a play within a play to explore the motivations and actions of the notorious Massachusetts 1892 axe murderess Lizzie Borden. 

As a true crime aficionado, I have no doubt that she killed her hated stepmother with 19 blows then, barely an hour later, her father with 11 blows. Still, by using this oblique device, Pollock walks us through the day’s events with a plausible explanation, both emotionally and psychologically, for what motivated Lizzie. Apparently it came down to money, as with many other famous crimes, but in this intriguing play the personal dynamic of the family is laid bare and we see the deeper forces at work.
  The actors superbly reveal the crazed dynamic of a family seething with unspoken contempt but it is Lizzie, crazy Lizzie, a bad seed in a polluted garden, who acts out the undercurrents. It is well known that she despised her stepmother but, in this telling, the revelation of her true feelings for her father brings a sad but plausible end to the story.

The excellent cast are: Carolyn Crotty as an enigmatic Lizzie and also the Irish maid; Meg Wallace as an actress brilliantly “performing” Lizzie; Hap Lawrence as the beleaguered father; Deborah Cresswell as the devious stepmother; Amy Moorman as the timid older sister; Steve Peterson as the greedy brother-in-law; Jay Disney as a flirtatious local doctor, and Steve Jarrard as Lizzie’s adroit defense attorney. 
Subtly directed by Jarrard, who also designed the simple set, with lighting by Jason Ryan Lovett, and lovely costumes by Meg Wallace. Photos by Mani Horn.

Produced by Collaborative Artists Ensemble. At Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd. NoHo, through June 15. Tickets at 323-860-6569 or www.plays411.com/bloodrelations.  Posted by THEATRE SPOKEN HERE by Morna Murphy Martell at 10:47 AM

A Strange Disappearance of Bees

The Raven Playhouse

Reviewed by Jose Ruiz        

A couple of years ago we covered The Collaborative Artists Ensemble production of Eleemosynary and proclaimed it "a jewel encrusted in a small dark stage." 

 Their new production is more like a rich multi-layered cake that reveals a engrossing part of a whole with every tier. Author Elena Hartwell's characters gravitate in a small town bakery, leading seemingly placed existences until the inopportune specter of life decides to step in.  Suddenly the people involved are like parts of an ill-fitting puzzle, sometimes almost meshing with another piece but often being left out by just "that much."

 But first, a word about the bees.  Rud, beautifully played by Jean Gilpin, is a beekeeper in this town, and she opens the play by addressing the audience with a professorial discourse on bees.  Among many other things we learn that bees have been disappearing by the thousands.  Rud points out that pesticides used in agriculture are one of the main reasons, and in a disturbingly logical argument, she argues that these pesticides, which are used to prevent insects from attacking the crops, are affecting the bees who fly back to the hive and infect other bees.  But then since they disappear, they no longer can pollinate the crops, plants and flowers which will have a domino effect on humans.   Rud comes back during the play a couple of times to expound more information about bees.  So, you may ask, how does this relate to the play?

The key lies in the cause and effect of pesticides on pollen and bees and the parallel to the causes and effects of war, prejudice, insecurity, acceptance and love.  Author Hartwell likes to play with time, and she writes this riveting piece using several flashbacks, which Director Steve Jarrard handles with superb timing as characters enter and exit the various temporal levels with seamless precision. 

The war in Vietnam took young Richard Cashman to the jungles and like many soldiers, he became involved with a Vietnamese woman and fathered a child with her.  He returns to the States, opens Cashman's Bakery, and soon becomes drawn to Rud but he keeps wondering about his Vietnamese child.  Like the bees, the mother disappears and he never knows his child.

 Cashman and Rud carry on a relationship for years, never marrying, but always loving, even though she is aware of his connection to the Vietnamese woman and his son.  The war has caused an unexpected condition in Cashman, which in turn will have a sober effect on everyone else.  Ian Patrick Williams' portrait of Cashman is gripping and heart wrenching.  

A young couple moves across the street from Cashman.  They have a little girl named Lissa but for unknown reasons, like the bees, they disappear leaving Lissa behind,  Cashman and Rud take care of the child until she becomes an adult working in the bakery.  She's a happy young woman with a boy friend and a good outlook on life.  Meg Wallace knows a thing or two about playing young women at various age levels.  In the aforementioned Eleemosynary she played a child through a teen and here she fluctuates from a young teenager to mature woman with equally believable poise. 

 One day a young man shows up at the bakery asking to see Cashman.  Lissa is shocked to learn this man is Robert, the long lost son that Cashman never knew or spoke about.  There is a little problem.  Cashman has died and this opens up another slice of the cake.  Christian T. Chan is excellent portraying the son who has longed to know his father, but shows reluctance when given the opportunity to learn more about him by reading his father's letters.  Soon, Robert's visit will cause a serious effect between Lissa and her boyfriend Callum, played with forceful testosterone by Brian A. Pollack.  The ensuing triangle that will follow is not new, but the resolution may surprise you.  

This is an excellent study of how people react when faced with seemingly overwhelming situations.  You get caught up in their lives and almost want to yell at them when they seem to make bad choices.  Yet in the grand scheme of things the story points a microscope to five people in an insignificant little town where a senseless war of years ago is still taking its toll.  It makes you wonder how many more people will be affected and if any more will feel lost.  Whatever caused the war is still having ill effects on people - just like the bees reacting to pesticides.    

RECOMMENDED   Plays through November 17, 2013

at the Raven Playhouse - 5233 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601. Reservations at: (323)860-6569  www.plays411.com/bees    www.collaborativeartistsensemble.com  

Assistant Director: Rachel Hardy; Stage Manager: Mikaela Berry; Scenic Intern: Melvy Gonzalez
http://www.reviewplays.com/10-13-JR-BEES-DIS.htm

Unique Family Drama Very Beelievable

By Radomir Luza , October 29, 2013



If a play about bees and their relationships with people interests you, make your way to Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s production of the West Coast Premiere of Elena Hartwell’s A Strange Disappearance of Bees at the Raven Playhouse in the NoHo Arts District running through Nov.17

In this beautifully written story, five characters are forever connected as the present collides with the past in this realistic, poignant and down-to-earth drama.

A newcomer to town, a Vietnam veteran, a baker, a farmer and a beekeeper search for identity, love and the right thing to do while bees disappear all around them.
    
Hartwell intertwines long monologues about bees voiced by Jean Gilpin (Rud) forcing us to not only surrender our pre-conceived notions about bees and their place in the universe, but as to their disappearance, relationships with the other characters and the information provided regarding Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

As with Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s last Los Angeles showing at the Raven, Carson Mc Cullers’ “The Square Root of Wonderful,” there is nothing false or conceited about this play. 
    
After productions in Vermont and Detroit, Hartwell’s words sing honestly and truly, and yet make us believe that we have met people like these characters somewhere in our dusty dawns.  The five characters here all feel so natural and real on stage that after a while their lives become a part of ours.  A writer cannot get a better compliment.
    
Director Steve Jarrard allows the language, emotion and action to flow crisply and confidently.  He understands the ecological definition of the bees’ loss as well as the family story innately.

Jarrard’s touch may be light, but his voice is powerful as he steers this incredibly-gifted cast. 

Christian T. Chan (Robert) in his Los Angeles theatrical debut, is all presence, power and naivete.  His is a convincing and welcome turn.

Brian A. Pollack (Callum) gives a truly naturalistic portrayal that unglues fingers and is not short on substance.

Meg Wallace (Lissa) After playing Mollie in “The Square Root of Wonderful,” Wallace shines again with an unmatched tenderness, innocence and unmitigated backbone that make her character and her the actress who they are.
    
Ian Patrick Williams (Cashman) portrays his character with a rare naturalistic fervor that especially in Act II makes the play what it is.  At times, it is hard to see Williams acting because he is so free flowing.

But it is Gilpin who gives a powerhouse performance of passion, pain and pathos.  
The former Royal Shakespeare and BBC veteran, boldly narrates the bee monologues while exactly, unpredictably but beautifully portraying Rud.   Gilpin’s turn is reason enough to see the play. She is the anchor on which the ship rests.  To see Gilpin voice the bee monologues is akin to seeing Babe Ruth hit a home run: you have to be there in person to feel the full impact.   Truly, Gilpin steals the show with one of the best Los Angeles stage performances of this or any year: one part sensitivity, another wisdom.
    
Furthering the message is Jason Ryan Lovett’s Lighting Design.

All in all, A Strange Disappearance of Bees is a unique and deeply moving ode to the past and what bees once were and the dire situation that they find themselves in today. Somehow, during the course of the play, the bees are humanized. No small task.


Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pmTICKETS: $20, Seniors: $15RESERVATIONS/INFORMATION:(323) 860-6569WHERE: Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601

From EDGE LOS ANGELES


Through a Glass Darkly
by Bryan  Buss
EDGE Contributor
Tuesday May 21, 2013

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning film about mental illness, Jenny Worton’s 4-character stage adaptation of "Through a Glass Darkly" is a stark, harrowing look at mental illness.

When a dysfunctional family of four -- father David, a distant, tortured novelist suffering from writer’s block; Karin, his daughter, who was recently released from a mental hospital; Martin, her steadfast husband in their sexless marriage; and Max, her teenage brother who aspires to be a writer himself -- descend upon a beach house off the coast of Sweden for a holiday, tensions mount, and old and new wounds are ripped open.

While Max (Timothy Walker) struggles to find approval from David (Anthony Auer), Martin (Jon Boatwright) frets that Karin (Meg Wallace) -- who is inappropriately sexual in front of her brother -- will relapse into schizophrenia the way her dead mother did.


The story never devolves into melodrama. The familial issues are all believable, and the script is as tight and spare as the stage set and the characters’ emotions. And while there’s a lot going on, the story never devolves into melodrama. The familial issues are all believable, and the script is as tight and spare as the stage set and the characters’ emotions. Adding to the bleakness is the fact that the, aside from the phenomenal actors, the production is entirely silent except for music in scene transitions.

Produced only two other times (in London and New York), the play retains a sense of open-air claustrophobia, as the family never leaves the island even as their lives unravel in the course of 24 hours. Director Steve Jarrard makes fantastic use of the small stage, in a theater so small the patrons are practically part of the cast. (The intimacy of the theater adds to the discomfort of the domestic drama because there’s really no way to escape it.) He also gets measured, thoughtful performances from each of his actors, with Wallace being a standout in the central role. She’s magnetic as she bounds from flirty to broken to madness, sometimes in the course of one scene.


The title, derived from Corinthians in the Bible, means that we see God darkly while alive and will see him clearly only when we die. The ending, which is wrenching and if not cathartic at least hopeful, gives the sense that the characters will be seeing their own lives more clearly after the heartbreaking events at the beach house.



"Through a Glass Darkly" runs through June 9 at the Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood, Calif., 91601. For information and tickets, call 323-860-6569 or visit plays411.com/darkly

From LA Opening nights

Review: ‘The Square Root of Wonderful’ at the Raven Playhouse, Sept. 14 to Oct. 14 (Not-To-Be-Missed)


by George Downing
L.A. Opening Nights

The term “buried treasure” exists in the lexicon of nearly every child from every generation. Whether stemming from adventure stories or wild imaginations in the backyard, kids dream of the moment when  an innocuous patch of dirt yields a chest of gold coins or the loot from an ages ago bank job.

 Few would argue that the golden age of American stage drama began shortly after World War II, and continued until the early 1960s. It was Tennessee Williams at his peak, Arthur Miller at his zenith, Eugene O’Neill toward the end of his career, but offering his greatest work yet. Others like William Inge, Elmer Rice, Lillian Helman and William Saroyan shine bright as well, not to mention one-hit wonders like Michael Gazzo (A Hatful of Rain) and Joseph Kramm (The Shrike). It follows then that with the bar being so high, and great plays being so plentiful, some good ones had to fall through the cracks.
The science of producing plays on Broadway isn’t quite an exact science, so perhaps even some great ones escaped their due.

 It’s certainly accurate to call The Square Root of Wonderful a buried treasure. The larger question, perhaps, is how did it get so deeply buried? Its author is, after all an iconic and greatly acclaimed writer, the tragic but brilliant Carson McCullers. Its performance rights have never left the Samuel French catalogue, albeit, it’s long been banished to the back pages. McCullers died in 1967, about a decade after the play’s disappointing Gotham run, but interest in her work has never ceased. She’s taught in universities, films have been made of her novels, and her other play, A Member of the Wedding remains popular and frequently revived. It is unfortunate that such a stellar play has gone unseen for so long, but it makes one hopeful that there are other buried treasures from that extraordinary time that was the New York theatre scene in the ’50s.

Collaborative Artists Ensemble, a five-year old theatre company producing mostly in the tiny Raven Playhouse in North Hollywood’s theatre district, unearthed the play, and are doing great justice to it.

Written and set in 1958, Square Root tells of Mollie Lovejoy, a beautiful and desirable single mother raising her son on an apple farm in upstate New York. They’ve landed here after the success of her estranged ex-husband, Philip Lovejoy, a writer who burned out fast after his first best-seller. Mollie and Philip met and married as teens in Society City, GA., a fictional town also referenced in McCullers’ Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Ready to move on once and for all from Philip, who was not only a cheater but also a beater, Mollie falls for a stable and gentle architect, John Tucker, who’s temporarily boarding at her house. Philip doesn’t stay away long. He returns ahead of schedule from a stint in a high end looney bin, and states his intent to marry Mollie….the third time’s a charm. The Mollie, Philip, John love triangle ensues, and matters are made more complicated by the son, plus the presence of Philip’s overbearing mother and wallflower sister.

 Playing the central character, Mollie, Meg Wallace gives a performance of great depth and grace. Mollie is poetic and lyrical without trying to be, and Wallace’s portrayal is similarly sincere and unselfconscious. Her lovely speaking voice is well-suited to the song-like Georgia drawl and her unusual cadences give the dialogue variety. Wallace exhibits star quality, likability, and is easy on the eyes.

Just as effective is young Sean Easton, as Paris, Mollie’s son, who is, as his mother fears, growing up too fast. Easton has great command of the stage and his scenes, and tells the story in a simple natural way that is very affecting. His precociousness is of the right kind: smart, honest, real, not of the sort usually shown by child actors.

Carolyn Crotty gives a powerfully understated performance as Lorena, the bookish and painfully shy sister-in-law to Mollie. Her every expression shows the heartbreak and regret of this tragic character. As Mother Lovejoy, Helen Wilson brings freshness and humanity to what could easily be a stock fussy, bitter, faded southern belle. Her comic timing is impeccable, and her energy infuses every scene she’s involved in.

As John, the gentleman caller who’s called so much he lives there, Ryan Gangl is as solid and sincere as his character. It’s not easy to make the patches-on-the-elbows good guy next door genuinely interesting, but Gangl manages to do just that. Also excellent is Matiana Parra, in the small role of Hattie, young love interest and confidant to Paris. Parra, making her stage debut, is sweet funny and charming. In a sad farewell moment late in the play, Parra nicely displays her dramatic chops.

The only ineffective performance comes from Ned Liebl, playing the showy role of the genius writer. Liebl simply doesn’t bring forth the danger and darkness that drive a tortured soul like Philip Lovejoy. He mopes around the stage, substituting sleepiness for complex emotions, and often mumbles his lines. While the rest of the cast tells the story as an ensemble, Liebl seems to be navigating a technique-obsessed acting class.

 Director Steve Jarrard has shaped the long (three acts, two intermissions) piece into a compelling, entertaining and highly moving evening of theatre. He understands the poetry and beauty of the text and doesn’t shy away from it, even in an era where it may seem out-of-place.

 The technical aspects of the show are first-rate, from the delightful period set appointed with old Life magazines and Rockwellesque artwork, to the attractive and period-appropriate costumes.

The Square Root of Wonderful
is long and challenging, but also funny, human and powerful. Not everyone’s attention span is attuned to a play like this, but for lovers of serious theatre from the greatest era of American playwrighting, this buried treasure is an absolute must-see.

Collaborative Artists Ensemble at The Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601 Sept. 14 to Oct. 14, 2012. Fri./Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Tickets: 323-860-6569 or see www.CollaborativeArtistsEnsemble.com.

From The Tolucan Times

Collaborative Artists Ensemble Presents The Square Root of Wonderful

 By Trish Ostroski on May 10th, 2012

The Square Root of Wonderful is one of only two plays written by Southern Gothic writer Carson McCullers and the only one written directly for the stage. The Collaborative Artists Ensemble is presenting this hidden gem currently staging at the Raven. At points, McCullers’ words are thoughtful and beautiful and somewhat autobiographical. In The Square Root of Wonderful, Mollie, a woman twice-divorced from the same man, raises her teenage son on an apple farm not far from New York City, yet the play still has a Southern feel in tone. John, who is an architect and Mollie’s tenant, has fallen in love with her at first sight. But her abusive ex-husband Phillip, just released from a sanitarium, wants to move back in and recover his relationship with the family, which also includes his mother and sister. Molly retains an attraction to Phillip whom she met as a teen, and yet she still yearns for John and greater stability for her son.

The play is conducted in three acts on a delightful set, and is directed by Steve Jarrard who navigates a well cast ensemble of actors. Cast members are Sean Eaton, John Holloway, Randal Miles, Isabel Rogers, Meg Wallace, Helen Wilson, and Pamela Wylie.

Wilson did an especially nice turn as Phillip’s domineering mother and Wallace as Mollie marks her character’s vulnerability yet growing strengths.

The Square Root of Wonderful plays at the Raven Playhouse located at 5233 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood till May 27. It plays on Fridays & Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 7 p.m. Admission is $20. Students and seniors $10 (use promo code GOOD). For reservations, call (323) 860-6569. For online ticketing, visit www.Plays411.com/squareroot.

From The Examiner.com

Triumph Over Tragedy in Square Root of Wonderful at the Raven

By Bonnie Priever

The iconic Carson Mccullers mixes Southern tradition with cosmopolitan New York setting, quite the contrast, to make for a most intersting melodrama, "The Square Root of Wonderful," playing at the Raven Playhouse in Noho.  It is a very literary piece, with which McCullers collaborated with the legendary Tennessee Williams, to create a play quote evocative and simply wonderful.  Their writing and style is extremely similar, with characters very real, their emotions worn on sleeves.  There is the quintessential sister, a spinster, Loreena Lovejoy (played by Pamela Wylie), whose meddling (in a good way) tries to save her brother, Phillip's (John Holloway) tormented soul and plight.  A most intense line of dialogue is uttered by Phillip: "When I grew up, I shattered," explaining his fragility and thoughts of suicide when life turns upside down. Phillip's wife, Mollie Lovejoy (Meg Wallace) yearns for "someone who loves me for my mind and not my body;" while Helen Wilson posts  a riveting performance as his overpowering, dominating mother.

 The entire ensemble deliver lines by playwright McCullers,  of Shakespearean quality, such as "Love is like witches and ghosts in childhood." The love and relationships we witness in this play is indeed tortured and dysfunctional, with every character enveloped in drama and tragedy.  Another profound line of dialogue says it all: "Art is long and life is fleeting." Phillip is like a flame burning passionately, as the wind is about to blow out his candle, showing how truly ephemeral life is.  At the end of the day, the leading lady shares this insight with the audience: "Hindsight is wiser than foresight." Only by looking back at things and twists and turn of events can one reflect and come to a better conclusion.  One sidenote: the choice of incidental music in the play was nothing short of brilliant- Elvis 50's  classics, with every single lyric so indicative of  the play's entire message.

From North Hollywood Patch


Theater Review: 'To Carry the Child' at The Raven Playhouse

The story of a moment in the life of a family in turmoil is painted in broad, yet wonderfully intimate and specific strokes.

 By Radomir Luza

September 19, 2011  
Some stories need to be told, some want to be told and some tell themselves.

 The World Premiere of To Carry The Child, presented by Collaborative Artists Ensemble in association with the Raven Playhouse through Oct. 16, is all three and then some. The story of a moment in the life of a family in turmoil is painted in broad, yet wonderfully intimate and specific strokes. It is metaphysical, philosophical, yet downright elegiac.

This tale of a pair of sisters, one pregnant, the other a young artist struggling with cancer and returning to her family home on Carapace Isle, NC, and their deeply concerned parents, offers tour-de-force performances by not only all five actors, but playwright Jon Courie and director Steve Jarrard as well. Courie and Jarrard are pragmatic, realistic, but spectacularly whimsical and humorous in their work, and seem to inspire some of the best acting this critic has seen this year in a contemporary play.

As the two sisters, Meg Wallace (Ashley) and Christine Haeberman (Sissy) are natural, potent and wise beyond their years.   Justine Woodford (Diane Kinderman) lights-up the stage with great presence and a deep commitment to not only her character, but the ambiance and timbre of the play as Ashley’s partner. Pamela Daly (Libby) is a mother whose strength and resilience reside directly beneath the surface. Her fear and doubt are strongly counter-balanced by her love. In a performance both parts naked and off-putting, Robin Nuyen (Bo) is a father like many, who cares deeply about his family, but does not know how to show it. Nuyen puts both arms around his character and takes him home with uncommon strength sensitivity, intelligence and desperation.

 All the performers could be acting in film and TV on a regular basis, and show a grace and maturity in lending their talents to the theatre. This play, while in effect summing-up five lives, swims to a gold medal with breathtaking courage and compassion.

A developmental version of this play was work-shopped by CAE in 2009. The present production marks the world premiere of the play as a completed work.

  The Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601 Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 7PM. Reservations: (323) 860-6569 Admission:$20




http://northhollywood.patch.com/articles/theater-review-to-carry-the-child-at-the-raven-playhouse

From REVIEWPLAYS.com

Eleemosynary
The Berg Studio Theatre
 Reviewed by Jose Ruiz

Casitas Avenue in Atwater Village is making a bid to become the next theatre row – or at least it’s little cousin, with several of the well known theatre companies setting up shop there. One of these companies is the Collaborative Artists Ensemble who is presenting Lee Blessing’s compelling Eleemosynary, an intimate and gripping story of three generations of Westbrook women. Loosely defined “eleemosynary” means of, relating to, or supported by charity. In this play, it is a word in a spelling bee where 16 year old Echo wins a national spelling championship. The word is an important part of the play, as it underpins attitudes of the three principals and sets up situations that define Echo’s character, her mother’s attitude and the grandmother’s role in their lives.


Nancy Solomons-Pamela Daly-Meg Wallace As presented by CAE, this story soars to a level that is often attempted but not often achieved in theatre. The tight direction by Steve Jarrard and the strong empathy the actors display for the characters makes this one of the outstanding presentations we have seen so far this year. It is a studied exploration of the lives and feelings of three women of various ages; grandmother Dorothea, her daughter Artie and Artie’s teen ager Barbara, known as Echo.



Meg Wallace, as Echo, asks her mother “Why did you leave me?” and a piercing tone in her voice reverberates at once accusing, begging and confused. Wallace has captured the essence of the young teen with a wonderful combination of fluctuating innocence and maturity.  Her willing acceptance of being raised by a loving grandparent contrasts with her doubts about her absent mother and her reasons for not wanting to raise her.



Pamela Daly plays Artie, in an excellent portrait of an ambitious and brilliant mother who desperately searches for the answer that will convince Echo that she does love her but has a need to search for personal meaning and fulfillment. Daly brings a certain reluctant distance to the character of the mother, perhaps guilty for having left her infant daughter with the mother to pursue a career research overseas – perhaps disdain for not wanting to be like her mother who raised her. A prior aborted pregnancy early in her life undoubtedly colors her attitude and feelings.



Easily, the most fascinating character is Dorothea, an eccentric dreamer who believes that people can fly without mechanical aids and tries to force her young daughter Artie to actually try flying using homemade wings while filming a home movie. Nancy Solomons delivers an incredible performance, almost becoming three different characters. First she is the mother to a girl who feels pushed, manipulated and managed. Then she is a loving grandmother who teaches the baby Echo words and sentences in Greek and other languages. But she also convinces us that her personal beliefs are firmly rooted in a whimsical cloud that drifts from fantasy to fantasy. The one trait that the Dorothea character does not exhibit is thievery. That is left for Solomons, the actress who easily steals most scenes, a formidable task when playing off two exceptional performers.



Blessings wrote this play with the actors often addressing the audience as they relate the story from their respective view points. Time also fluctuates in a non-linear pattern, as we first see Dorothea in the last stages of life, then are transported to Artie’s childhood, Echo’s teen-years and back to various periods of their lives.



The scenery is sparse and simple, the lighting is economic, the dialog is brisk and intelligent and the entire presentation is like a jewel encrusted in a small dark stage.  Amanda Stewart assisted director Jarrard.


Too bad there were only a few people when we saw it. The performances and presentation are worthy of much better audience support and the company deserves to have more attention. There should be a line outside the box office demanding entrance! There should be huge splashes and accolades in all the media expounding the virtues of the actors! There should be more plays of this quality so that LA can merit the name of “Theatre town”.



But for now, actors being what they are, Meg Wallace, Nancy Solomons and Pamela Daly have the inner reward of knowing that they have created indelible characters and those fortunate to have seen their work will not soon forget them.



You should go – so you can join the privileged who can say – “ I was there when they played Eleemosynary”.



The show runs through June 5, 2011 at the Berg Studio Theatre, 3245 Casitas Avenue # 104, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Reservations at: 323-860-2011. On line reservations at: https://www.plays411.net/newsite/show/play_info.asp?show_id=2759  Recommended! Comments? Write to us at: Letters@ReviewPlays.Com

From SOCAL.COM

Theatre Review: Lucia Mad
by Cecily Arambula

 

Through its clever and witty dialogue, Lucia Mad has proven to be one of Don Nigro’s best works. As the plot progresses, so does Lucia’s madness. While she tries to win the affection of Samuel Beckett, she quickly loses her sanity. Lucia’s father, James Joyce, an accomplished author, uses his work as an outlet for his own sense of madness. Although Lucia has inherited her father’s overly passionate personality, she has nowhere to use it other than love.

 Meg Wallace’s performance as Lucia Joyce is captivating from beginning to end. Her ability to portray a character with such innocence, while at the same time, such madness, is impeccable. It is easy for the audience to feel as if, they themselves are going mad, while watching Wallace erratically prance around the stage, and listening to her, sometimes incoherent, dialogue.

 The combination of Pamela Day and Ian Patrick Williams, as Nora and James Joyce, makes for great comedy and a realistic married couple in their situation. Robert Ross’ performance as Samuel Beckett, is intriguing and charmingly awkward. Although Mr. Beckett is the reason for Lucia’s madness, the audience cannot help but feel sorry for him, as he tries multiple times to escape Lucia’s grasp.

 The opening scene features only Lucia and Mr. Beckett, sitting separately, with isolating spotlights upon them. As Lucia hauntingly sings, Beckett holds tightly to a book and speaks in inconsistently short sentences. The rest of the play goes back and forth between James Joyce’s work and its connection to Lucia, and how Lucia frantically pursues Mr. Beckett. Lucia’s madness becomes her greatest flaw and it affects everyone around her. It is not until Dr. Jung, a respected psychiatrist, played by Kenn Schmidt, traces Lucia’s madness back to her father, that anyone knows the reason for her unstable behavior. Lucia has so much love to give, but no one to accept it, while Mr. Beckett denies her, and her father stayed buried in his work.

Wallace’s dramatic portrayal of Lucia puts the audience on an emotional rollercoaster. Despite the overall seriousness, comedic relief shines through the dialogue in nearly every scene. Comedy only works when an actor knows how to deliver it, and the actors of Lucia Mad certainly know how to.

This tragic story of a lost, love-obsessed girl is a must see. From the actors, to the dialogue, to the overall story, Lucia Mad captures the essence of a twisted relationship between romance, art and obsession.  

Lucia Mad plays at: The Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd. (between Lankershim and Vineland), North Hollywood, CA 91601.
October 22- November 14, 2010. Fri. & Sat. at 8, Sun. at 5. For Online Ticketing : www.Plays411.com/luciamad

From BACKSTAGE

Lucia Mad Collaborative Artists Ensemble at the Sherry Theatre

Reviewed by Neal Weaver November 11, 2010

 In "Lucia Mad," playwright Don Nigro looks at what might have happened had Lucia Joyce (Meg Wallace), daughter of Irish writer James Joyce (Ian Patrick Williams), fallen madly in love with dour and deeply pessimistic Samuel Beckett (Robert Ross), the writer's assistant and later the author of "Waiting for Godot." He's incapable of returning her love, and the rejection drives the already unstable young woman into madness—but it's a madness colored by her eccentric wit and fanciful notions. She stalks him relentlessly, but he remains sternly elusive. It's not entirely clear how much of this is rooted in fact and how much is Nigro's invention.

It's a fascinating tale probably best appreciated by those with a basic knowledge of Irish literature, particularly the works of Joyce and Beckett. When, toward the play's end, Lucia proclaims that she is Anna Livia Plurabelle, it won't mean much unless one is at least vaguely acquainted with Joyce's linguistically adventurous—some might say impenetrable—novel "Finnegans Wake." Nigro is erudite, but his attitude toward his characters seems curiously ambivalent, sometimes regarding the great writers as amiable lunatics and sometimes as masters of their craft.

The play is engrossing for much of its length—as Lucia grows madder, declares that Beckett is going to marry her, rebels against her father's overprotective love, and becomes a patient of Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung (Kenn Schmidt). Ultimately, however, Nigro's dwelling on Lucia's manias and Beckett's guilt-ridden but unwavering refusals begins to seem self-indulgent. Their relationship is stubbornly static, and the action comes to a screeching halt.

Director Steve Jarrard makes much of the production palatable by mining the comedy in the script, which is considerable, and the cast does excellent work all around. Wallace finds the charm as well as the logic in the calculating but irrational Lucia and makes her madness credible. Ross captures Beckett's spiky-haired appearance as well as his emotional remoteness, making his extreme nature believable. Williams' Joyce combines bumbling absent-mindedness with an edge of ruthlessness, and Pamela Daly scores comic points as his commonsensical wife, trying to cope with a houseful of nut cases. Schmidt strives to overcome the limitations of his brief, underdeveloped role as Jung; Quincy Miller plays the slightly philistine friend McGreevy; and Dan McNamara doubles as a violence-prone pimp and a lunatic who shares Lucia's asylum.

Presented by Collaborative Artists Ensemble at the Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Oct. 22–Nov. 21. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (323) 860-6569 or www.plays411.com/luciamad.

From The Scoop LA

Lucia Mad At The Sherry Theater Theater

 
 By Erica Carey

It  was an evening of laughter and madness at The Sherry Theatre, located on Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood, as seven cast members brought the play, “Lucia Mad,” to life. With only a single couch, a writing table, two wooden chairs, and books scattered about the floor, The Sherry Theatre was transformed into the home of Irish natives James, Nora and Lucia Joyce. Directed by Steve Jarrard, “Lucia Mad”, is a play about the relationship between  20th Century Irish novelist, James Joyce, his mentally unstable daughter, Lucia and her obsession with writer Samuel Beckett.

  Ian Patrick Williams does a wonderful job portraying James Joyce who is a loving, caring father and husband, but is more involved with bringing his world to life through the written word, than paying attention to his family. Williams shows how career and family play a role in his daughter’s demise. Constantly writing and conversing with his fellow literature patrons, he invites admirer Samuel Beckett, played by Robert Ross, to help dictate his ideas on paper. Ross plays an awkwardly quiet apprentice to Joyce. Ross’ demeanor is uncomfortable and unsettling towards Lucia, who is delighted to have the presence of another man in the house. Meg Wallace plays a captivating Lucia, whose solitary life in terms of male companionship leads to an active imagination, as she becomes smitten with Mr. Beckett. After dominating every one-on-one interaction, Lucia blatantly states her true feelings of love and lust towards Mr. Beckett. Beckett is uncomfortably shocked and doesn’t reciprocate. This is the beginning of Lucia’s obsessed madness towards Mr. Beckett. Wallace(Lucia) takes over the stage with daydreaming antics and a childlike demeanor due to her mental decline. Pamela Daly shines as Lucia’s mother, Nora, who spends her days comically coping with entertaining her husband and his novels, while staying grounded about her daughter’s progressive illness. Daly put a dry comedic twist to the character making her witty with sarcastic remarks.  

Actors Quincy Miller, Ken Schmidt and Dan McNamara had supporting roles in the story. Miller played comic interlude to the stories most tense moments as Mr. Beckett’s friend, Thomas McGreevy. Schmidt plays the role of psychiatrist Carl Jung, who delivers a heartfelt diagnosis of Lucia. McNamara captures the sinister essence of the evil Pimp and later in the story, he takes the character of Napoleon, a playful, silly friend of Lucia’s in the mental ward. “Lucia Mad” is an intriguing story of a family’s unraveling. It is a lighthearted story against the backdrop of a serious family matter.

“Lucia Mad” will be performed at The Sherry Theatre and extended through November 21, 2010. Shows are Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm and Sunday evening at 5:00pm. Admission is $20 per person. For reservations, please call 323-860-6569 or visit:   www.Plays411.com/luciamad for online ticket information.

FROM SOCAL.COM

How I Learned To Drive
Review by Angela Gomez

A disturbingly beautiful play, written by Paula Vogel, ‘How I learned to Drive’ is a ‘squirm in your seat but don’t take your eyes off the stage’ kind of play. A play set in the mid 60’s to early 70’s, Lil’ Bit (played by Meg Wallace) parallels her formative adolescent with the lessons that she was taught as she was learning how to drive. Growing up in rural Maryland, Lil’ Bit was exposed to sex at an early age. Her immediate family doled out nicknames based on their genitalia. With the absence of a father figure, Lil’ Bit has 2 men to look up to in her family; her overly sexist and racially charged Grandfather (played by Luke Lizalde) and her seeming innocently affectionate Uncle Peck (played by Robert Ross). Living in a women’s body gifted to her when she is 11 years old, Lil’ Bit attracts the attention (and leers) not only from her classmates but also from her family-especially Uncle Peck.   Preying upon her naïveté, Uncle Peck offers to teach Lil’ Bit how to drive. Spanning from 11 years of age until her 18th birthday, Lil’ Bit becomes enveloped in the sexual confusion thrust upon her by Uncle Peck. Exposing her innocence, he lures her into his trust by having her believe that he is the only one who “gets her” and supports her intellectualism and aspirations to go to college. 

 A brilliantly performed play, director Steve Jarrard reveals dark family secrets that should have died along with the memories. A very hard play to digest at times, the audience can’t help but feel embarrassment and shame as they laugh at the intermittent comedy that is sprinkled through the darkened theme. 

 Meg Wallace acted brilliantly as she shrank and rose with the confusion of her character. Her lilting voice hesitated during the scenes of questionable conduct and you could feel the awkwardness penetrate the air. Robert Ross oozed quiet creepiness as the calm in his voice hid the bubbling want and anger that he masked so well. He played the most unsavory character that when upon meeting you know that he is nice enough but there is still something there that you just don’t trust.

  Pamela Daly was multi-faceted as she played several characters including the slighted Aunt who was married to Uncle Peck and the mother who tried to shield Lil’ Bit from her own burgeoning sexuality. Performing two characters fighting the same fight for different reasons, Daly was not only outstanding but she was also heart wrenching to watch at the same time. 

 ‘How I Learned to Drive’ is currently performing from April 16 to May 9th at The Raven Playhouse in North Hollywood. Parking is very hard to find but don’t let that discourage you from going to see this magnificent play.   Please call (323) 860-6569 to purchase tickets for $20. To obtain driving directions and information about The Raven Playhouse, log onto www.ravenplayhouse.com

 A gripping play that exposes a taboo subject that has been living in the shadows for too long, ‘How I Learned to Drive’ is a highly recommended play to see this spring. 

From BACKSTAGE WEST

Standing On My Knees

January 30, 2008

By Paul Birchall

In playwright John Olive's drama, gentle and sensitive young Catherine (Meg Wallace) has schizophrenia. The good news is that Catherine's condition can be controlled with massive doses of Thorazine, which is prescribed by her kindly, maternal shrink Joanne (Barbara Keegan). The bad news is that Catherine is a poet, and she feels that the drug essentially destroys her artistic abilities, turning her into a brain-dead potato with legs.Released from the mental hospital where she has been committed for some time following an emotional fugue, Catherine tries to get her life back together. Her publisher best friend Alice (Rachel Hardy) subtly trying to push her back into writing, Catherine meets up with a handsome, stable stockbroker (Brian Barth on the night reviewed). All this prompts Catherine to make the decision to self-medicate, which means supplementing her meds with liberal swigs from a bottle of a nice Chablis. Madness results -- as, tragically, does brilliance.

The main problem with Olive's drama is that it tends to overromanticize schizophrenia in a way that comes across as being faintly manipulative. Director Trace Oakley presents Catherine as a waiflike beauty whose fragile talent is intimately related to her insanity. And the character's descent into lunacy is so beautiful and operatically tragic -- well, who wouldn't want to have schizophrenia if it lets you be so pretty and nice? The disease-of-the-week soap-operatic nature of the work ultimately trivializes what is essentially a medical condition.

Still, Oakley's production, with its echoes of Bohemian garrets and gritty ambiance of desperation, has a sensitive intimacy that is frequently quite affecting.

And Wallace's turn as a woman who descends into insanity is touching and powerful. Wallace has clearly done her research on the medical condition of schizophrenia: She shows great versatility as her slightly zoned-out turn when she's a Thorazine zombie gradually shifts into edgy twitchiness. Keegan's performance as the world's most caring shrink is nicely done too, and we love her acting in a "dream sequence"; in which the psychiatrist appears to be as mad as her patient. As Catherine's slightly oafish boyfriend, Barth amusingly depicts a fellow who doesn't know what to do with a girlfriend with more personalities than he figured he'd be dating.

Presented by Collaborative Artists' Ensemble at Gardner Stages,1501 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood.Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. (Also Sun. 8 p.m. Feb. 10-17.) Jan. 11-Feb. 17.(323) 860-6569. www.plays411.com.

Review by Ingrid Wilmot  Will Call.org


"An Excellent Evening of Theater"

The Food Chain by Nicky Silver

This is a light weight comedy in three acts which appear unrelated. But, not to worry, it all comes together in the end. It opens as a nervous, chain-smoking, young woman Amanada (Meg Wallace) , phones a hot line operator Bea (Barbara Keegan), (who has troubles of her own), because her husband Ford (the taciturn Mark Stuven), has deserted her and disappeared. In Act II, we meet Serge (Dustyn Gulledge), a gay model, who is trying to break up with his former lover Otto (Raymond Parker) , a grossly obese, verbose neurotic with sado-masochistic tendencies.

If these characters had to shlep their problems (mostly blamed on mother) , behind them, they'd have to rent Dodger Stadium to squeeze in. Wallace plays a published poet but looks more like a waitress. However, she has excellent command of her lines, especially a lengthy monologue detailing her pent up pain and agony. Keegan is amusing as a dispenser of sage advice. Gulledge, a well built fellow with a bad wig, is soooo bored with both men and women hitting on him and struts his stuff flamboyantly all over the tiny stage. Parker, another fine figure of a man judging by his 8 by 10 glossy in the lobby, is grotesquely stuffed out to ungainly proportions, waddles, sweats, nibbles snacks, spews self hate or dishes out insults, with the speed of light and never falters. A remarkable performance.Most of these crazies feel unloved by absolutely everyone, but the audience can't help liking them just the way they are.

Direction is by Steve Jarrard.

Playwright Nicky Silver has received. Drama Desk nominations for his plays Pterodactyis and Raised in Captivity. He also wrote the book for the Broadway revival of The Boys from Syracuse. The Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Holywood (between Magnolia and Weddington. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. $20 (323) 860-6569. Tight street parking


Review from Stage Happenings by Carol Kaufman Segal

Billed as a sex-comedy, and written by Nicky Silver, The Food Chain is a play you wouldn?t take your children to see.But as an adult, well, that is a different story. The setting is Manhattan, an apartment where we find Amanda (Meg Wallace) pacing back and forth.She finally calls the crisis hotline where she is connected to the counselor, Bea (Barbara Keegan), a Jewish woman with problems of her own.She attempts to uncover Amanda's dilemma (she is chattering on so) and finds out that Amanda got married, went on her honeymoon, and upon returning a week later, her husband Ford left to go on a walk an has not been seen for two weeks. Suddenly Ford (Mark Stuver) arrives home saying nothing. End of scene I.

Scene II opens in the apartment of a model, Serge (Dustyn Gulledge) lolling around on his bed of red satin sheets, obviously waiting for his lover to arrive (if it is possible for him to love anyone but himself!). But instead, a former lover, extremely overweight Otto (Raymond Parker) arrives, with bagsful of munchies which he never stops eating.Otto is loud and never stops ranting.It seems he had an affair with Serge years ago and is extremely obsessed with him (the reason he gained ninety pounds and can't stop eating). He recently lost his job at a night club and wants Serge to take him in.Slim Raymond Parker, stuffed into a stuffed suit, is undeniably a comical figure. In Act II, when Amanda's doorbell rings, in walks Serge asking for Ford.She tells him he is sleeping and tries to discover who he is and why he is there.Meanwhile Otto, who has followed Serge, arrives at the apartment, and before long, Bea shows up out of concern because Amanda hung up on her. In this bizarre act, comedy reigns.

The actors couldn't pull this off any better. Even Ford, who doesn't say a word, achieves it by his expressions. Keegan is wonderful as the Jewish counselor; her accent is right on and she reminds you of any yenta you might know. The gay model, well Gulledge is indeed the perfect specimen. As for Amanda, Wallace is as distraught as any newlywed would be under these appalling circumstances. How it ends is for you to discover in this zany play superbly directed by Steve Jarrard.Theater: Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., in North 

Tickets: (323) 860-6569

Dates: Through May 3, 2009 - Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.


Review from BACKSTAGE WEST 

Standing on My Knees

January 30, 2008

By Paul Birchall


In playwright John Olive's drama, gentle and sensitive young Catherine (Meg Wallace) has schizophrenia. The good news is that Catherine's condition can be controlled with massive doses of Thorazine, which is prescribed by her kindly, maternal shrink Joanne (Barbara Keegan). The bad news is that Catherine is a poet, and she feels that the drug essentially destroys her artistic abilities, turning her into a brain-dead potato with legs.Released from the mental hospital where she has been committed for some time following an emotional fugue, Catherine tries to get her life back together. Her publisher best friend Alice (Rachel Hardy) subtly trying to push her back into writing, Catherine meets up with a handsome, stable stockbroker (Brian Barth on the night reviewed). All this prompts Catherine to make the decision to self-medicate, which means supplementing her meds with liberal swigs from a bottle of a nice Chablis. Madness results -- as, tragically, does brilliance.

The main problem with Olive's drama is that it tends to overromanticize schizophrenia in a way that comes across as being faintly manipulative. Director Trace Oakley presents Catherine as a waiflike beauty whose fragile talent is intimately related to her insanity. And the character's descent into lunacy is so beautiful and operatically tragic -- well, who wouldn't want to have schizophrenia if it lets you be so pretty and nice? The disease-of-the-week soap-operatic nature of the work ultimately trivializes what is essentially a medical condition.

Still, Oakley's production, with its echoes of Bohemian garrets and gritty ambiance of desperation, has a sensitive intimacy that is frequently quite affecting.

And Wallace's turn as a woman who descends into insanity is touching and powerful. Wallace has clearly done her research on the medical condition of schizophrenia: She shows great versatility as her slightly zoned-out turn when she's a Thorazine zombie gradually shifts into edgy twitchiness. Keegan's performance as the world's most caring shrink is nicely done too, and we love her acting in a "dream sequence"; in which the psychiatrist appears to be as mad as her patient. As Catherine's slightly oafish boyfriend, Barth amusingly depicts a fellow who doesn't know what to do with a girlfriend with more personalities than he figured he'd be dating.

Presented by Collaborative Artists' Ensemble at Gardner Stages,1501 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood.Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. (Also Sun. 8 p.m. Feb. 10-17.) Jan. 11-Feb. 17.(323) 860-6569. www.plays411.com.


Review from LA Weekly

 STANDING ON MY KNEES

The primal, upsetting forces that lead to art also hold the power to decimate mental stability. Such is the paradox in John Olive's intriguing 1982 study of a published minor poetess, Catherine (Meg Wallace), struggling with prescription Thorazine for schizophrenia. The drug may keep the demons at bay, but it similarly bars the inspiration that gives Catherine's poetry its flight. The play begins in Catherine's "artist garret" bedroom as she's recovering from a breakdown. It then takes us through her plateau of comparative normality including a desk job offered to Catherine by her pushy publisher, Alice (Rachel Hardy) and a kind of artistic stagnation that leads to her defying her doctor's (Barbara Keegan) orders by cutting back on the drug, and consequently careening toward another breakdown. Through this, she engages in a doomed romance with a smitten, bewildered stockbroker (Brian Barth) an affair that more or less defines the play's trajectory. Act 1 is a long setup with scant dramatic action that hangs (barely) on exposition about the disease, symptoms of which are muted by the Thorazine. In Act 2, hell breaks loose, which justifies the wait. Wallace's quality of demure sweetness yields to bouts of rabid hostility and implosions of confidence, matched by Barth's kindly incomprehension of just about everything that means something to Catherine, from her love of dissonant classical music to the flows of dark energy that drive her poetry. As the publisher, Hardy pushes Alice's pushiness like a broom clearing the path of her ambitions more plausible than textured. Nice turn by Keegan as the shrink who, under Trace Oakley's direction, gingerly negotiates the transformation from every Lifetime movie shrink into an elfin cartoon from some Christopher Durang farce a figment of Catherine's tortured imagination. Oakley's basic staging contains no bravura performances, yet it's capable enough to hold its own.

Collaborative Artists Ensemble at the GARDNER STAGES, 1501 N. Gardner St., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perfs Sun., Feb. 10 & 17, 8 p.m.); thru Feb. 17. (323) 860-6569. (Steven Leigh Morris)-LA Weekly


1/15/08ACCESSIBLY LIVEOFF-LINE

By Rich Borowy-Managing Editor

John Olive's STANDING ON MY KNEES, a drama about a writer who must deal with her inner nonconformity, plays at the Gardner Stages theater is West Hollywood. Meg Wallace appears as Catherine. She is a writer of poetry with a pair of published books of poetry to her credit. She even meets a man with a promising job--a stockbroker by trade--who becomes a romantic encounter. But she has a situation that only she had to deal with. She suffers from a case of schizophrenia. From the inner voices that play inside of her head to the medication that her psychologist prescribes, Catherine finds herself into a dilemma that can keep her standing up on her feet, or bending upon her knees. This play deals with an issue that is rather taboo--mental illness, and takes the subject in a rather realistic way.

When it was first written c.1981, there wasn't as many drugs that would aid in the treatment in schizophrenia. Today, although there is more sources of medication available, the problems still exist, meaning that this melodrama still packs a punch in these contemporary times.

Trace Olive directs a cast that is fulfilling in their roles that feature Brian Barth-alternating with Nathan Van Williams, as Robert, Catherine's romantic interest, Barbara Keegan as Joanne, and Rachel Hardy as Alice, Catherine's psychologist. STANDING ON MY KNEES doesn't offer any answers, nor does it present any sort of cure. It just shows how one's process of thinking can offer either a full life or a demise.

STANDING ON MY KNEES, performs at the Gardner Stages theater, 1501 North Gardner Street (off Sunset Blvd.), West Hollywood, until February 17th. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday nights @ 8:00 PM, and Sunday, February 10th and 17th @ 8:00 PM. Reservations and information, call (323) 860-6569, or via http://www.plays411.com/">http://www.plays411.com.