Two productions to talk about this week…

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One drama and one comedy. Although vastly different in content and style, both of them explore unexplainable “other worldly” events.

The Woman in Black

(L to R) Adam Conger and Stephen Taylor in “The Woman in Black.”

(L to R) Adam Conger and Stephen Taylor in “The Woman in Black.”

SHERMAN OAKS- Adapted beautifully by Stephen Mallatratt, from Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, this is a hauntingly involving ghost story! Still running after 20 non-stop years in London at The Fortune Theatre (with a new cast every six months), this chilling script offers deliciously challenging roles for any duo of actors who are fortunate and talented enough to play them. Adam Conger and Stephen Taylor were definitely up for the challenge, and are riveting individually and intensely creepy coupled, as two strangers who come together to re-enact a haunting happenstance. I had reviewed Adam in the past in lighthearted comedies, but was quite impressed to discover here, the depth of his dramatic range and capability. Under the well-timed spooky and suspenseful direction of Gabrieal Griego, who also effectively designed the lighting (notably, in her theatrical directing debut), these two focused young actors gave excellent performances! Jamey Hood is also eclectically eerie in a wordless role, as the recurring ghostly image of “The Woman in Black.” I must heartily applaud the “spine-tingling” sound design by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski… It kept us jumpin’ in our seats! Taking place in England, we meet a very jittery man with an unbelievable story to tell, of a beautiful ghost he encountered numerous times. He hires a theatre owner/actor to help him develop a play about his frightening saga… to stage only once, for family and friends. He had been a solicitor, hired to attend the funeral of an 87 year old woman, and put all of her legal papers in order, while staying in her newly vacated home. The horrific ghostly events that he witnessed have driven him to the edge of madness… and he feels he must tell his story to find inner peace. A complex and detailed script, you really must listen intently to keep up with “who’s who,” but the trip theatrically, is worth the effort. I first saw this play a few years back at NoHo’s “Road Theatre,” starring Paul Witten and Joe Hart, and loved it! Multi-award winning and drawing packed houses for well over a year, I was very curious to see someone else’s “take”  on this unusual and brilliant story. Although on a much smaller scale and stage… this group fared well and did it justice! Sadly, this run only plays out for four consecutive Wednesdays through May 13th… so you must be quick to catch it… and I hope you do! It is mesmerizing! The Whitefire Theater – 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. Call toll-free at 866-262-6253

And the Winner Is…

Seamus (Fred Ochs at far right) holds back (L to R) Kyle Morgan (Mike Pfaff), Teddy La Petite (Aleksandar Petko), Serenity (Ashley Palmer) and Tyler Johnes (Marc Siciliani) as they prepare for their return to earth.

Seamus (Fred Ochs at far right) holds back (L to R) Kyle Morgan (Mike Pfaff), Teddy La Petite (Aleksandar Petko), Serenity (Ashley Palmer) and Tyler Johnes (Marc Siciliani) as they prepare for their return to earth.

SAN MARINO- Cleverly written by Mitch Albom (who also penned the beautiful “Tuesdays with Morrie” and “Five People You Meet in Heaven”), this is a madcap look at overblown egos and the manic need for validation, at any cost. A strangely thought-provoking circus of a script, it pokes fun at the narcissistic nature of “some” actors and their agents, who will sacrifice everything for major recognition (you know who you are)! It is the morning of The Academy Awards®, and “blowhard” actor Tyler Johnes is up for the coveted “Supporting Actor” nod, competing against his co-star and nemesis, Kyle Morgan (a cocky Mike Pfaff). A cut-throat egomaniac, Tyler has lied, cheated, and clawed his way to stardom, on his selfish journey to this very moment. As the play opens, he flies down a “slippery slide” and finds himself in a strange bar with no booze, cigs, or phones. He is eerily greeted by a puzzling older Irish man who repeatedly zaps him with a painful jolt for every blasphemous word he uses. He has mysteriously landed in a sort-of purgatory of self-analysis, and involuntary reflections, on his past. Sound a bit strange? It is! In flashbacks and with multiple revealing visits from the people in his life, he realizes that his big night at the Oscars is in jeopardy. Under the fast-paced direction of Donald Shenk, a wild ‘n’ crazy cast seems to be having the time of their lives. An inventive concept, and screamingly funny… for a while, but so “over the top” and overly-amped that for me, the loud and raucous shenanigans became tiresome and gratingly shrill. Luckily, Act Two, which got to the heart of the matter with true feelings, moral realizations, and redemptive possibilities… quickly regained my interest, and tied it all together. In retrospect, for the most part, I enjoyed this bizarre comedy, which combined riotous situations with meaningful moments and messages. There is a quirky and entertaining message here for any actors with overblown egos and lost values… to be sure. Marc Siciliani as Tyler, in the lead role (a Toluca Lake resident), plays our unlikable, “sleaze-bucket” actor with enthusiastic energy in the manic first act, but showed much more versatility and heart as an actor in the reflective and emotional Act Two. There is a charmingly loveable performance by Fred Ochs as the curious “middle man,” somewhere between Heaven and Hell, and Dawn Alden gives a heartfelt portrayal as Tyler’s lovelorn soon-to-be ex-wife. Aleksandar Petko is despicably believable as Tyler’s slimy agent, and Ashley Palmer is bubbly as the token, show-biz blonde bimbo-ette. As you can see, my feelings were mixed… but in the end, it was a bit of zany fun! Running through May 24th at “Stillspeaking Theatre” – 2560 Huntington Dr. in San Marino. Call 626-292-2081 or go to www.stillspeakingtheatre.org for tickets.

See you next time…

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