I saw two very good plays in their world premieres. As different as night and day in subject matter… but what they had in common, was all round excellence… and two of the most effectively intricate set designs I’ve seen all year! Not a fan of “black box” theatre… I value a set that creates the mood of the story at hand.
“As White As O”
To catch any production at The Road Theatre is a mind-bendingly hypnotic experience! Dedicated to offering “the best” in all aspects, this highly awarded “theatre company” of 19 years never fails to inspire us to taste “the color of life.” Whether a particular play here is funny, puzzling, dark, “heady” or controversial… the quality of the all round effort is always remarkable! I’ve covered their productions as a reviewer for over a decade, and though I have sometimes been baffled beyond total “understanding,” they are forever high on my list of “must sees!” Their unique script choices, consistently flawless acting, directing and technical efforts… magnified by the ingeniously inventive set designs of resident “visionary,” Desma Murphy… the audience is always joined in a collective trance! To anyone who claims L.A. pales to New York in theatrical genius, I say… check out the work at “The Road…” This current play, written heart wrenchingly by Cincinnati writer, Stacy Sims (from personal experience) deals with a mental condition called “synesthesia” (an involuntary cross wiring of the senses). A bit difficult to explain, I’ll borrow a quote from my press release: “What if your life was an uninvited work of art, an onrushing riot of the senses, and love was a perfect white O that smells like salt and gasoline?” That is Jacks life… played with phenomenal focus by Vince Tula. When the oddly eclectic and artfully cluttered home he built years ago with his father (a convincingly solid Mark St. Amant) in Kentucky gets moved to a museum in New York, his life unravels. The scheme of a strong willed curator (Lauren Clark) as part of an “outsider art” exhibition causes Jack to turn up to revisit and explore his past and the true love he never forgot (Keelia Flinn). Jack tastes his feelings, smells what he touches and sees letters in color, “synesthesia.” Once there, he recalls and sees his father in a new light, and is shocked by facts concerning his mother (a brilliant performance by Elizabeth Sampson!). Directed with gut wrenching passion, and a haunting constant involvement of all characters, on Murphy’s awesome triple level set, by the multi-talented Sam Anderson, this entire cast excels in memorable portrayals! The remainder of the fine cast includes: a sassy Kate Mines, Ramon de Ocampo, Heather Wililam, Bryna Weiss, Joe Calarco, Jennings Turner and TJ Marchbank. Setting the mood perfectly… David B. Marling (music and sound), Jeremy Pivnick (lighting), Mary Jane Miller (costumes), Adam Flemming (video design) and effective voiceover work by Wyatt St. Amant as a young Jack. To all L.A. theatre enthusiasts, I say again… this is a complex and disturbingly delicious must see production!
Running through Dec. 12th at The Road Theatre (5108 Lankershim Blvd. in NoHo—upstairs). Call (866) 811-4111.
“Just 45 Minutes from Broadway”
Written by Henry Jaglom, with, a humorously flairful, “larger than life” obvious love of theatre, he has a clear understanding of the egos and quirky natures of actors. This is a highly entertaining production! Present day, we are in the upstate New York home of veteran actors, Vivien and George Isaacs. He (Grisha), a third generation Yiddish stage actor turned English-speaking theatrical star… and she (Vivien), a past stage actress, now retired, share a colorful and affectionate life. Both Diane Salinger as the spiritual, down to earth wife, and Jack Heller as the high strung, “sleepless” husband give richly rewarding, heartfelt performances! In fact, the whole cast shines under the playful yet poignant direction of Gary Imhoff! When Pandora, their 30-year-old “free spirited” youngest daughter moves back home after a failed romance, the mania begins. Tanna Frederick is an explosive bundle of dynamite as Pandora, lighting up the stage throughout! David Proval is a riot as Uncle Larry, staying with the family while appearing in a local dinner theatre production of “Guys and Dolls.” Harriet Schock is ditzy fun as a fading character actress living with the Isaacs. When Betsy, the stuffy, older daughter who deeply resents her nomad theatrical upbringing, visits home, the sparks fly! (A despicably capable Julie Davis.) Bringing along her “normal” realtor fiancé to meet her whacky family, she’s in for some unexpected surprises. (A delightfully likeable David Garver.) Multicolor kudos to Joel Daavid for a gorgeous set design (five separate locations), and who also handled the lighting, and to Mike Shear for sound design. Of course all families have their secrets, quirks, differences, resentments and squabbles… but they are monumentally dramatic in this kooky show biz clan! A humorous look at “family” with a lot of heart… Try to catch this one!
Running through Dec. 20th at the beautiful Edgemar Center for The Arts (2437 Main St., Santa Monica). For more information, call (310) 392-7327.
As you know, I love live theatre… and hope my column inspires some of you to make it a part of your life too!