Two productions to tell you about this week…

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Boasting seven very strong performances between them…

“74 Georgia Avenue” & “The Pushcart Peddlers”

A pair of one-act plays exploring the personal and intriguing lives of a variety of Jewish-American characters, this is a highly entertaining coupling. Touching, funny, thought-provoking and sweet… the audience was captivated throughout! The duo (originally a trio) was written by New York playwright, Murray Schisgal, and has been performed in Yiddish, Russian and English. He also penned the screenplay for “Tootsie.” (FYI-There will be “talk back” discussions with the cast after the Sunday matinees on July 26th and Aug. 9th, and complimentary wine and cheese will be offerred on all Friday night performances, to all full-price patrons.)

“The Pushcart Peddlers”

(L to R): Lloyd Pederson, Melissa Soso and Ren Bell in “The Pushcart Peddlars.”

(L to R): Lloyd Pederson, Melissa Soso and Ren Bell in “The Pushcart Peddlars.”

Directed with playfully quirky, fast-paced delight, by Chris Winfield, this infectiously loveable piece plays out like an old Vaudevillian act. Chris, a perfect choice to direct this one, had a long and successful run here over a decade ago, playing Bud Abbott in the riotous “Who’s On First,” co-starring Van Boudreaux as Lou Costello. When a naïve, young Jewish immigrant boy, “fresh off the boat” from the old country, meets a devilishly opportunistic New York banana peddler, by chance, (ironically from the boy’s hometown) the fun begins! Cornelius, a bit of a con-man, looking to make a buck any way he can… takes immediate advantage of Shimmel’s innocence and inexperience. Lloyd Pedersen is despicably delightful as the fast talkin’ rogue, and Ren Bell is hilariously animated as the gullible and disheveled youth. Melissa Soso gives a sassy and spirited portrayal as the pretty flower peddler with big dreams of becoming a Broadway star!

“74 Georgia Avenue”

This compellingly mysterious story runs like an edgy “Twilight Zone,” chilling our senses throughout. Under the hauntingly focused direction of Frances Mizrahi, two stranger’s lives intertwine. Martin is an unhappily married, middle-aged Jewish businessman with a burning passion to retrace the past events and people in his early life. (A heartouching Larry Margo.) He returns to the Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood and house where he grew up… and knocks on the door. Now a run down, largely African American community, a reluctant and unwelcoming black man with problems of his own opens the door. (A powerfully surreal performance by Disraeli Ellison.) During their volatile and revealing conversation, they eerily realize that their pasts are forever linked. As a Balladeer, threading the tales together, singing tunes in both Yiddish and English… Laurie Morgan was an added-treat! Winfield’s effectively minimal set, Steve Shaw’s spooky sound and the moody lighting of Dakota Thomas-Nye… set the tone nicely. A wonderful theatrical choice for “Jewish Group” outings… book a seat today!

Running through August 22 at Lonny Chapman’s Group Rep—10900 Burbank Blvd. in No Ho. Call (818) 700-4878.

“Billie” & “Bogie”

Two back to back, self-written solo plays. Taking us into the hearts, minds and personal history of two American “show-biz” legends… this is a voyeuristic trip for die-hard fans of Billie Holiday and Humphrey Bogart. Honest, gritty, funny and informative… we look at the joys and sorrows, and ups and downs of major stardom through the innermost thoughts of two of history’s biggest stars. Both plays are directed gutwrenchingly by Bryan Rasmussen, who inspires believable performances, as each mega-star allows us to view their unique lives… “The good, bad and the ugly.”

“Billie”

Synthia L. Hardy Billie Holliday) and Dan Spector (Humphrey Bogart).

Synthia L. Hardy Billie Holliday) and Dan Spector (Humphrey Bogart).

Emmy Award-winning actress and singer, Synthia. L. Hardy as the most famous and bawdy jazz-blues singer in history is a simmering bundle of explosive dynamite! Holiday, known for a darkly sad life filled with racism, drugs, abuse and turbulence… It was a joy to get an in-depth look at the passion, love, friends and faith that also crossed her path. She was quite a gal! Synthia sensually does her costume changes onstage, and fabulously performs many of Billie’s trademark songs, accompanied tastefully by Richard “Eighty-eight Fingers” Turner, Jr. Called “Lady Day,” her parental love, issues with prejudice, multiple marriages, drug abuse, jail sentences and “gift” for soulfully interpreting her songs… shaped the complicated life that still touches the hearts of fans worldwide. I enjoyed every single “cusses like a sailor… Sings like an angel” moment!

“Bogie”

Taking place at “Romanoff’s,“ the famous celebrity restaurant of the day, just after accepting the Academy Award for his performance in “The African Queen,” Bogie spills his guts! Alone with a bottle of booze, a pack of “cigs,” tightly clutching his never expected “Oscar,” he soul searchingly reflects on his life. His childhood, over bearing mother, romances, career, cutthroat political problems and famous people who had shaped his destiny… All reveal themselves in the process. Dan Spector, bearing a striking resemblance to the moody Bogart, in both appearances and mannerisms, gives an ambitiously focused performance! Unfortunately, his script (often laboriously long winded for me) wasn’t nearly as impressive as his portrayal. Somehow, lacking dynamics, it lost my interest early on. To be fair… I was never a big Bogart fan, which may have partly shaped this opinion. Loyal fans that cherished his dry, monotone, swaggering persona will most likely react more enthusiastically to this “inside look” at his life… Worthy mentions to: Steven Taylor (sets and lighting), Gabriel Griego, (video design, though we wished there were more images projected), Ashley Taylor (props), Joe “Sloe” Slawinski (sound) and Gail Griffen (make-up).

Running through August 22 (Saturdays only) at the Whitefire Theatre—13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. Call (323) 960-4418.

Tune in for more of my 2 cents worth next week…

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