I have one play review, and two upcoming productions to talk about this week. Grab a coffee … and read on.

The Belle Aires

From l, Ursula Christian, Jean Carol, and Julie Barry in “The Belle Aires.”

From l, Ursula Christian, Jean Carol, and Julie Barry in “The Belle Aires.”

Written playfully by Maria Elena Cellino, and Directed by Vinnie Torrente. Promising to be a “hilarious and captivating” story in my press sheet, three rival superstars from the decades ago “Golden Era,” reunite to present a new film. The concept, while intriguing, is laden with production issues. Joining forces with a former casting agent (an endearing Dimitri Christy) the ladies have a “comeback script” that they hope will catapult them back into “showbiz.” This concept is appealing, and the large cast of a dozen actors offers enthusiastic and spirited enactments … tho’ directorially, they continually trip over each other’s performances, flying in and out of multiple scenes. The three lead ladies … Mona (Julie Barry), Mia (Jean Carol), and Marina (Ursula Christian) are all capable actresses whose work I’ve seen many times. Each plays their quirky roles with heartfelt humor, as the aging “Divas,” hoping to revive their acting careers. Hayley Silvers as Bonnie gives a sassy performance, and in multiple roles, Steven Connor was also a lot of fun! The main problem in the constantly interruptive flow of the story, was the endless, non-stop onstage set changes we were forced to sit through! Time and time again, over a dozen set transformations were handled by two men … two to four minutes each. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of critiquing theater! Hopefully, they have found a way to correct that issue by now, as there were many entertaining scenes, worthy performances, and hilarious moments to be enjoyed. An overly ambitious, but potentially entertaining production in need of a bit of tweaking to realize its full impact … I suspect that by the time this review prints, it will be more “audience ready.” The excellent “live” offstage piano accompaniment by Billy Revel was a nice touch! Give it a week to gel, and if the concept interests you … check it out. Running Thursdays through Sundays through Dec. 8 at the El Portal in The Monroe Forum Theatre located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in NoHo. For tickets call or go to ElPortalTheatre.com.

Christmas 2 – A World Premiere – Opening Nov. 23 at T.U. Studios.

Written and Directed by Jeff Goode, who’s well known for his ingeniously “off the wall” scripts … this one is sure to be whacky!! The author of the smash hit “The Eight Reindeer Monologues,” which has had over 500 productions worldwide … I expect this one to be wildly enjoyable too. Said to be a hysterical comedy … Here, 30 years after his birth, Jesus Christ was a child star who quickly faded into obscurity, and everyone involved in his nativity saw their lives fall into ruins. The Ghost of Nativities “past” converges on Bethlehem to teach J.C. the true meaning of Christmas. Should be a riot! For early booking call or go to SkyPilotTheatre.com.

Mom’s Gift – Opening Dec. 6 at The Lonny Chapman Theatre. Written by Phil Olson, and Performed by The Group Rep Actors.

If you’re familiar with Phil’s hilarious award-winning series of “Don’t Hug Me” plays, taking place in small, hokey towns in Minnesota … then you’re already “hooked” and wouldn’t miss any of his offerings. His plays have been smash hits nationwide, with music written by his brother, Paul Olson. Each enjoying sold out audiences all over our fair country! Including … “Crappie Talk,” “Don’t Hug Me,” “A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol,” “A Don’t Hug Me County Fair,” and “A Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant.” Also touchingly wonderful was “A Nice Family Gathering” on a more serious note … as will be this upcoming play … Mom’s Gift. I expect it to be still another ingenious offering, as this infectiously likable man’s work never disappoints! If you already know of Phil Olson, I’m sure you’ll see this one too. If you’ve not … it’s time you did! To book seats ahead for Mom’s Gift, call or visit thegrouprep.com. To have a “peek” at his career accomplishments go to philolson.com. That’s about it for this week … Do get out and catch some of L.A.’s fine theatrical offerings … Why not buy tickets for someone you love as a Christmas gift? Bonus: You don’t even have to wrap it!

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