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
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
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
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
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 !
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Life hangs “In The Balance” at Studio Stage LA POST EXAMINER
by Ron Irwin
November 16, 2016
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.
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
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’
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.
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
Rating: Five Stars
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
16 to June 15, 2014
Playhouse in the NoHo Arts District
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
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
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 –
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.
couple of years ago we covered The Collaborative Artists Ensemble
production of Eleemosynary and
proclaimed it "a jewel encrusted in a small dark stage."
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
this beautifully written story, five characters are forever connected
as the present collides with the past in this realistic, poignant and
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
From The Examiner.com
Triumph Over Tragedy in Square Root of Wonderful at the Raven
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,
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.
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
The Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601 Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 7PM.Reservations: (323) 860-6569Admission:$20
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”.
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.
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
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.
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.
combination of Pamela Day and Ian Patrick Williams, as Nora and James
Joyce, makes for great comedy and a realistic married couple in their
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Collaborative Artists Ensemble at the Sherry Theatre
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.
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
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.
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.
Mad” is an intriguing story of a family’s unraveling. It is a
lighthearted story against the backdrop of a serious family matter.
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.
How I Learned To Drive Review by Angela Gomez
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.
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.
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.
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
‘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.
call (323) 860-6569 to purchase tickets for $20. To obtain driving
directions and information about The Raven Playhouse, log onto www.ravenplayhouse.com.
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
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.