Okay readers… Get off your couches, turn off your TV’s and venture out to see this heartwarmingly funny show!

TiVo the Lakers, “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars,” etc…. This is “live,” up front n’ personal theatre at its most entertaining!

The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Gina Hecht and Jason Alexander in “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.”

A “laugh a minute winner,” you must try to catch this delightful production! Written by Neil Simon, this crowd pleasing, madly maniacal script has tickled the funny bones of audiences for over 40 years! Originally starring Peter Falk and Lee Grant on Broadway in 1971, and later Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft in the 1975 film version… its fast paced patter and bittersweet message is timeless! Life… and dealing with its challenges, setbacks and one another… can be maddening! Directed flawlessly this time around, with razor sharp timing by Glenn Casale… this entire cast nails it! The story centers on a middle aged couple living on Second Avenue, on the Upper East Side of NYC… whose lives have taken a downward spiral. All hell breaks loose in their long successful marriage, during a sweltering heat wave! Their noisy and overpriced 14th floor apartment has endless repair issues, cantankerous neighbors and now smells like a “toilet,” due to a current garbage strike! On top of all that, Mel has just lost his job of 22 years as an Advertising Executive, and unknown thugs have robbed their home in broad daylight! The fun begins with Mel sitting on his couch in the wee hours… hating life! Raving and ranting, out of control… his sleep deprived wife Edna tries in vain to calm him down. Jason Alexander (a riot as George on Seinfeld) and Gina Hecht, as Mel and Edna, are a perfectly cast dynamic duo! Bouncing off one another with impeccable timing in hysterical harmony… they just never miss a beat! Unable to deal with the course his life has taken, Mel suffers a nervous breakdown, and undergoes unsuccessful therapy treatments… kicking and screaming all the way! As Act Two opens… Edna has gone back to work to pay the bills, and Mel is going “bonkers” home alone, after seven weeks unemployed! Getting more delusional by the day, living in his p.j.’s listening to “talk radio”… he’s becoming a raving lunatic! We then meet his kooky and colorful family who has turned up after many years absent, to offer him love and financial support. The savvy casting and performances of this quirky and hilariously over the top quartet of nutcakes were brilliant! Each actor was funnier than the last! Applause all around to: Ron Orbach as Harry, Carole Ita White as Jessie, Annie Korzen as Pearl and DeeDee Rescher as Pauline (my personal favorite sibling). Top notch “behind the scenes” efforts set the tone perfectly! The 1970s costumes were spot on (Kate Bergh), the realistic set design by Stephen Gifford was terrific, and Philip G. Allen’s sound and Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting rounded out the technical magic! This is a thought provoking and loveably looney evening of theatre, folks… Do catch it! Be quick about it though, as this is only a three week run (seven shows a week).

Running through May 15 at the El Portal Theatre located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in NoHo. For seats, call (818)811-4111, (818) 508-4200 or go to www.elportaltheatre.com.

Mark Your Calendar Sex and Education: Opening June 3 at Burbank’s Victory Theatre

Story submitted by Justin Rogan; trimmed down and “tweaked a bit” by yours truly

Over the years, college sports have been persistently dogged with scandal and sleaze. From allegations of sexual shenanigans to revelations of obscene payments to supposedly “amateur” sportsmen infused with the Olympian ideal. It’s a ripe subject for playwright Lissa Levin, whose timely new play Sex and Education opens at the Victory Theatre in Burbank on June 3.

The whole production of Sex and Education is a family affair.

It was written by Lissa Levin, will be directed by her husband, Dan Guntzelman; and their son, Kanin Guntzelman, is one of the strong trio of actors. The highly respected actress Maria Gobetti and a young newcomer, Jessica McKee, round out the cast.

The Guntzelmans are an attractive and loving family living in the West San Fernando Valley. Meeting them at The Victory Theatre during the world premiere of Sex and Education, you will feel the pride and respect they share.

In an era when school sports’ stars graduate with no education, and go on to earn ludicrous amounts of money, Lissa Levin has written a play about a “no nonsense” teacher forcing an education upon a celebrated high school athlete.

One of the lead characters is a teen basketball star, and the Guntzelman-Levin family enjoys “shooting hoops.” “We’re like the Kennedy’s, only in Chatsworth,” Lissa jokes.

Lissa and Dan know a lot about being a creative couple working together, as they have been co-workers since the days of TV’s WKRP in Cincinnati. They originally met when Lissa was working as an assistant on WKRP. Hoping to impress her bosses with her prowess, she read all the spec scripts submitted to the show, and especially loved Dan’s script. “It really stood out,” she says. They called Dan in, and according to Dan: “It was love at first sight.” (Lissa laughs and says it took a bit longer than that.) Lissa has also written/produced for such hit shows as Mad About You, Cheers, Family Ties… and more.

Luckily, none of this familial pleasantness makes it into the script. The play unfolds a taut, gritty and comedic duel between a teacher and her star athlete student.

Kanin Guntzelman is a graduate of Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, and was a basketball star there, which is what inspired his mother to write Sex and Education. He was captain of the varsity team and his “special” treatment as a basketball “phenom” caused Lissa to be concerned about his education. He earned a basketball scholarship, but chose instead to study theater in San Luis Obispo.

Kanin grew up in the world of television, and is extremely proud of his parents.

“They have lived the dream. My dad came here penniless from Cincinnati and rose to success, and my mother became a successful writer and has succeeded. They are motivated, “go-getter” people, and I couldn’t be more proud.”

The play is very sexually charged in parts but Kanin isn’t concerned about acting out this subject matter in front of his parents. “I had fleeting moments of embarrassment, and then it all bled away in a professional environment — it just went away.”

Although the message of the play is about the importance of education and using your intelligence… when asked if knowledge was important in Kanin’s house, he shakes his head and says, “In our home being funny was rewarded.” That makes sense… since he is the son of two talented and successful sitcom veterans.

I really look forward to this production… and of course will tell you all about it later. I’ll be there… “front and center,” opening night!


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