Two realistically raw, cerebrally taxing and “cutting edge” productions to talk about this week… both exploring the underbelly of society’s frailties.

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“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction… Fiction has to make sense.”  – Mark Twain

The Idea Man

L to R: Robert Foster, David Franco and James Pippi Carney in “The Idea Man.”

L to R: Robert Foster, David Franco and James Pippi Carney in “The Idea Man.”

HOLLYWOOD- Presented by the Elephant Theatre Co. and in its World Premiere, this is an excellent play, from the “eye opening” script by Kevin King, to the spot-on performances, to the grippingly captivating direction of the acclaimed David Fofi. Shockingly underhanded and exploitive, and at times hilariously funny, its dire message in the end is vividly valid and deeply thought-provoking. My press sheet states: “A bitingly strong commentary on class conflict in the modern day workforce that takes us into the gaping gulf between labor and management…” It is all of that and more! No matter what sort of business enterprise, large or small… too often the “underling” employee who comes up with a brilliantly innovative idea/suggestion at work, is shuffled into the shadows of the “big wigs” who deceitfully glow in the accolades, credit and rewards. This revealing script, balancing the cut-throat dealings with true-to-life humor linking the horrific facts, is of course on a larger global scale, but the injustices suffered by the “Johnny Punch-a-Clocks” in the world, wear the same mask. Al, a smart but crass, unfaithfully married party animal, is about to shake things up! A longtime tool line worker and Union Rep, he drops an ingenious idea in the office suggestion box, so un-thought of before it could revolutionize the industry. His reward… a hundred bucks and a glossy plaque! His mind-blowing idea is then handed over to Frank, in “white collar” management, to hone the bare-bones concept, and make it work profitably for the company’s benefit. James Pippi, as the sleazy Al, and Robert Foster as the dedicated “company man,” give flawless performances… loaded with depth and dimension. David Franco is despicably dynamic as the unscrupulous big boss, with shady plans for Al’s discovery. (Respecting your theatrical journey… I can say no more.) Megan Dolan sizzles with femme elegance as Frank’s smart and sensible wife, and Kerry Carney is explosively entertaining as Al’s cheesy but loveable wife, in an award-worthy portrayal. Colorful depictions by George Russo, Frank Merino, and Matt Sturiale, as Al’s crude and comical tool line coworkers. Just wait till you catch the poker game scene! A strong production all around: Kudos to Louis Douglas Jacobs (costumes), Adam Hunter, Matt Maenpaa and David Fofi (“cool” urban set design), Joel Daavid (lighting), Matthew Richter (sound), and Lanfair Field (original music). This one is a brain teasing winner! Try to catch it! Running through June 6th at the Elephant Theatre – 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Call 323-960-4410.

The Columbine Project

Justin Mortelliti (R) and Artie Ahr (L) as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris in “The Columbine Project.”

Justin Mortelliti (R) and Artie Ahr (L) as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris in “The Columbine Project.”

NORTH HOLLYWOOD- Turn back the “shock clock” in your memory back to April 20, 1999. Who of us doesn’t recall the horrifying incident at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado? Violent mass murders committed by two rebellious young outcast students, while holed up in the library… devastated our nation! Falling short of their twisted scheme to kill 250 of their classmates, they did in fact end the lives of 12 students, one teacher, and themselves, and left many others emotionally damaged forever! Shockingly written and gut-wrenchingly directed by Paul Storiale, after years of research and reflection… and interviews with students who were there… this is a mind-blowing production! In gripping monologues sharing never-exposed facts found in students’ journals, his gritty script delves into the heads and hearts of all involved. Not an event many would care to revisit, one would think… yet the critic’s reviews have all been favorable, and the theatre has been packed since mid-April (now extended through May 30th). The crippling and psychotic effects of issues such as racism, homophobia, social exclusion and depression, are explored as possible motivation for this heinous act of revengeful revolt. A strong and upsettingly effective cast of 21 actors pour their guts into these roles, each offering chilling portrayals! Although I do feel that the trimming of its 2 1/2 hour length a bit would heighten its impact, we were in a state of shock throughout. Justin Mortelliti, as Dylan, and Artie Ahr as Eric, the violently menacing assassins, plotting their mass murder for over a year… both gave hypnotically brilliant performances, as did Evan Enslow as Brooks, their only other friend, whose life was spared. Rya Meyers was a heart-touching standout as a sugar-sweet Christian girl, and Kelli Joan Bennett and Marquerite Wiseman were painfully perfect as grieving mothers. The whole cast excelled their “spot-lit” scenes! Compelling live song performances by Bradley Michael, and the pulsatingly angry music score, “drove” the messages home! A darkly cerebral look at the psyches of deeply-troubled youths who made horrid history with their unthinkable act of violence… this is hard to watch… but it is deeply involving and voyeuristically interesting at the same time. A worthy effort to be sure! Running through May 30th at The Avery Schreiber Theatre – 11050 Magnolia Blvd. in NoHo. Call 818-766-9100.

I hope all of the “Mothers” out there were properly spoiled on Sunday! We deserve it!

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