I caught two enjoyable North Hollywood productions on the weekend… polar opposites in style and content, but both are worthy of your time.

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Sex and Education

“Sex & Education” at The Victory, a West Coast premiere comedy by Lissa Levin. From l, Maria Gobetti, Kanin Guntzelman and Jessica McKee.

This smart, bawdy, and thought provoking comedy, is a joyous “laugh a minute” must see! Hilariously written by successful playwright and TV writer Lissa Levin… (Mad About You, Cheers, All in the Family and WKRP in Cincinnati… just to name a few) this sassy script is a treasure! Expertly directed by her husband Dan Guntzelman (writer, director and producer of over 300 TV episodes) the play also co-stars their son, Kanin. A family affair… they brought the script to the long married and much loved Maria Gobetti and Tom Ormeny… owners and artistic directors of The Victory Theatre. Sparks flew and the project blossomed… with Tom wearing the “producer’s hat!” The gifted Maria Gobetti plays Miss Edwards, a dedicated but “fed up” teacher, giving her last final exam, before retiring to become a realtor. As always, she was captivating… blessed with the instincts and impeccable timing of a seasoned “pro!” When she catches a “scholarship bound,” but scholastically underachieving, high school basketball star passing a sex driven note to his “hot” cheerleader girlfriend… all hysterical hell breaks loose! Fed up with years of teaching uncommitted, unappreciative spoiled kids… she decides to teach him a lesson, on her last day as an educator. She holds him captive in her classroom, threatening to jeopardize his scholarship by failing him, unless he rewrites the “naughty note” in a grammatically correct way. The language and sexually explicit note is riotously raunchy, as they pick it apart and dissect its words and meaning. Kanin Guntzelman plays Joe, the undereducated and cocky 6’7’’ basketball phenom, with fresh and funny fervor, and Jessica McKee is spunky, sweet and spirited, as the bouncy “virginal” cheerleader. This is a wonderfully meaningful script! Between the countless chuckles… it offers lessons for both the student and the teacher… in life, sports, sex and grammar! Maria states: “At a time when education seems to be the first thing to be sacrificed to the budget knife, and to the tax advantage of the wealthy ‘one percent,’ it is a joy to celebrate a daring, funny, sexy voice, in favor of the value of education.” Mood setting “behind the scenes” efforts added much to the play. Gary Randall (classroom set design), Carol Doehring (lighting), Rob Corn (sound) and Anna Valendez (cheerleading choreography). Do try to catch this entertaining and educational “adult romp” – it’s a lot of fun! Running through July 10 at The Victory Theatre located at 3326 W. Victory Blvd. in Burbank. For seats, call (818) 841-5421.

The Poor of New York

Chris Winfield and Trisha Hershberger in “The Poor of New York.”

Under the Group Reps fearlessly experimental recent reign as co-artistic directors, Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield… a season of classic works are being offered. Determined to revive the quality of work and production choices, since the passing of their mentor, Lonny Chapman, this longtime troupe is regaining respect and audience support. Their first two well received offerings this year, The Trip to Bountiful and Wait Until Dark were hands down winners! This current risky classic melodrama, written in 1857 by Dion Boucicault, is a lesser known work, and will likely get mixed opinions. While the storyline chillingly resonates with today’s issues of corruption, economically and politically, the “theatrical style” is a bit foreign to today’s theatrical audiences. Martin Scorsese’s controversial film, Gangs of New York, depicted the stressful monetary issues of the period… Now, you can experience the 20 year plight (1837-1857) of this lower Manhattan neighborhood, and their decline into destitution, poverty and desperation. Under the realistic and raw direction of Larry Eisenberg (assisted by Drina Durazo), an excellent cast “takes us there” with heart wrenching skill. The plot chronicles the rise and fall of the unscrupulous banker, Gideon Bloodgood, during the financial crisis in the mid-1800s. A heartless cad, he cheats the commonfolk at every turn, unconcerned with their destitution and starvation (…the name Bernie Madoff comes to mind). This story peers in on the unfortunate fates of the parallel lives of the Bloodgoods and Fairweather families over 20 years. Chris Winfield is despicably dynamic as the heartless Bloodgood, and Trisha Hershberger is flawlessly ferocious as his beautiful and spoiled daughter, Alida. Van Boudreaux as Bloodgood’s dismissed and swindled bank clerk, and Larry Eisenberg as Captain Fairweather, give powerful performances. Gut wrenching portrayals by all of the Fairweather family members (Juliana Olinka, Max Bunzel, Kate O’Toole), the Puffy family (Kathleen Taylor, Jimmy Ogburn, Michael Robb) and Alex Parker as Mark Livingstone. Fine supporting work too in smaller roles (Klair Bybee, Roy Allen and Francisco Medina). A well chosen cast all around! Technically tight in setting the dark tone, congrats to: Chris Winfield (scenic design), Jazmin Lopez (fabulous period costumes) and Christian Ackerman (highly inventive video screened visions). That’s a lot of names I know, but on a production as large and inventive as this one… all deserve mention! An old time melodrama, presented in its classic original style… this was quite a monumental effort! Running through July 10 at Lonny Chapman Theatre located at 10900 Burbank Blvd. in North Hollywood. For seats, call (818) 700-4878.

Back next week to tell you all about two local productions… I’ll be seeing “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” at Crown City Theatre, and “Moose on the Loose” at Theatre West. I love this job… and as always, I encourage you to make “live theatre” a rewarding part of your lives!

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