Two totally opposite productions to talk about this time…
One, an achingly beautiful drama, and the other, a wild ‘n’ wacky musical parody. Man, I love this job!
East of Berlin
NORTH HOLLYWOOD- This is an enthralling production, superb in every theatrical aspect! The intimacy of the 40-seat theatre lent perfectly to the audience’s focused involvement. Mesmerizingly captivated in a stunned silence from the first words of solo dialogue by a gifted young actor (as Rudi), we knew we were in for a treat. Taking place in Paraguay in 1969, we ponder the emotional plights of the offspring’s parents involved in the treacherous Nazi regime. What would you do if you discovered that your father was a Nazi war criminal? What happens when two sons of SS Officers share an intimate relationship, based on facing their horrific family history? How does it happen that a lovely young Jewish woman, whose own mother survived Auschwitz, meets and falls in love with a German man? These issues are explosively explored with passion, historical drama, and moments of comical relief. Gut-wrenchingly written by Hannah Moscovich, and brilliantly Co-Directed by Chris “CB” Brown and Sarah Botsford, three remarkable actors give award-worthy performances! The story plays out in the “mind” of Rudi (a German) as he relives the events, discoveries, and relationships with the two most important people in his life. Russell Sams as Rudi (who never leaves the stage during the entire 90-minute play), is flawlessly focused and fearlessly fabulous! One of the strongest portrayals I’ve seen all year… this is one exceptional young actor! As his long-time friend Hermann, James Barry is also powerful, and as Sarah, the Jewish girl Rudi hopelessly falls for, Carolyn Stotes will capture your heart! A trio of artistically perfect depictions… Lacey Anzelc’s starkly edgy scenic design, Luke Moyer’s darkly moody lighting, and Curtis Jackson’s costumes, round out the excellence. This is a riveting play. Do take the time out to see it! Running through July 19th at The NoHo Arts Center (back theatre) – 11136 Magnolia Blvd. in NoHo. Call 818-508-7101 ext. 7.
TOLUCA LAKE- A zany, sillier than silly, fast-moving journey into the world of Tolkien’s fantasy about a special “ring,” complete with elves, dwarfs, wizards and goblins, this “over the top” musical comedy spoof of “The Fellowship of the Ring” is maniacally madcap. For its 2005 premiere run, it earned LA Weekly’s awards for “Best Musical” and “Best Comedy Ensemble.” The entire cast is back to re-birth its mirth… and the insanity runs rampant! Numerous members of this talented cast are pro-TV comedy writers/actors themselves… (“MAD TV,” The Groundlings, “Hannah Montana,” “David Spade’s Show Biz Show,” etc.) Zestfully co-written by Kelly Holden-Bashar and Joel McCrary (book), with great music by Allen Simpson (who musically accompanies the cast onstage with Cory Rouse). An enthusiastic, high-energy cast of nine brings the characters back to life with a twisted version of what might have been… Certifiably nutty multi-character depictions were given by all! Steve Purnick excels as Boromir, and as the 111 year old Bilbo. His brilliant and riotous delivery as Bilbo was reminiscent of the old-time comics like Sid Caesar and George Burns. Peter Allan Vogt was a scream as the “light in his loafers” Sam, and as Balrog, a “devilish” cabaret diva. Cory Rouse plays the boyish Frodo (with a beautiful singing voice), and we loved Lisa Fredrickson as Gimli and as the spirited Innkeeper, Brian D. Bradley as Gandalf and Galadriel, Kelly Holden Bashar as Pippin, Edi Patterson as Arwen and Legolas, Ryan Smith as Merry and El Rond, and Matthew Stephen Young as Strider. Sandra Burns’ costumes are creatively kooky, Matt Gourley’s eerie video art work and minimal set design are clever, and the 12 storytelling songs are good fun! Unfortunately, I did come away with mixed feelings about some of the directorial choices… Under the well-intended guidance of Director Joel McCrary… at times, the manic action felt stilted and over-rehearsed… leaving little chance, in most cases, for unscripted spontaneity (which is a joyous surprise addition in this kind of a show. “The Troubadour Theatre Co.” comes to mind…). To be fair, the audience at the Opening Night performance howled and clapped uproariously… finding the raucous laughs more often than we did. So, what do I know? Reviewing plays is a very tricky affair… and one that I always try to do with fairness and due respect. One person’s opinion! If this insanely “tongue in cheek” parody beckons you, by all means, check it out! There’s plenty of talent on that stage, and more than a few hearty laughs. I do feel that “fans” of the film or the trilogy of books will be most appreciative of this offering… Running through July 12th at the Falcon Theatre – 4252 Riverside Dr. in Toluca Lake. Call 818-955-8101.
Keepin’ our hard-earned “bucks” in the “hood.” After the show, we wandered into this long-time popular Toluca Lake eatery and pub for a “wee nip.” Hadn’t been there in ages… The fairly-new and graciously welcoming co-owner, Dennis, took us on the “nickel tour” to see the changes they’ve made. Boasting a comfy, cozy, redecorated upstairs restaurant and bar area, they now have booths with individual TVs for private sports viewing. Nice touch! The food is scrumptiously affordable, the staff is very friendly and attractive, and the customers come in all ages, professions, and types! If you haven’t been there lately… Stop in!
So far, I have only one play to see/review next weekend, and it looks interesting! North Hollywood’s Crown City Theatre is opening a musical comedy. Three one-act musicals, based on stories by Mark Twain, Frank R. Stockton, and Jules Feiffer. This one intrigues me… Stay tuned in!