Dear Bar Owners: Start Hiring Bands that Don’t Suck


Vocalist Rocio Gil and guitarist Drew Woerner

Tonight I was at another bar in town that should remain nameless (Crown & Anchor) and there was a singer playing with a band that should also go unnamed (Steve Stafford) who’s been playing Neil Young’s ‘Rocking in the Free World’ on local stages for over ten years and he still DOESN’T KNOW THE FUCKING WORDS. It was my tipping point. I’d had enough. Had I not been in company that I didn’t want to offend I’d have dragged him off the stage and shoved a copy of Neil’s ‘Freedom’ CD down his throat because that certainly would’ve sounded better.

To get away from this musical jerkoff I crossed town to Azars and walked in to a band that shouldn’t remain nameless, The Replay, whose lead singer was not only wailing out everything from Radiohead to Joplin in ranges most B-list singers dream of hitting, but she was literally fucking the music from her waist. That happens when you have control of the song rather than the other way around. As I watched and listened and the crowd danced at the foot of her stage, lead singer Rocio Gil literally slapped the band’s catalogue upside the head and made it her bitch for a night. She was that good and the difference was that noticeable.

There’s a term unnamed singers should learn, and its dynamic. Audiences don’t come to bars, spend upward of $100 to watch a band suckle the teat of local bar owners with the same tired act and stroke us off with a Sublime song they learned a few years ago as if that updates the playlist and there, mission accomplished.

And you know what? It didn’t bother me that she occasionally used the iPhone mounted to her mike stand to remind her of her place in the lyrics, because I’d rather have that minor technological update as a band’s unofficial fifth member than risk her slipping a moment and break the intensity she had going on stage. From what I could see, she didn’t use it much. Most people don’t when the band is channeling thru them – and that inspiration pours through to us. And anyone playing in and promoting a cover band will tell you, the audience’s opinion ultimately means everything. It’s right up there with ‘how much did people spend in here tonight?’

So maybe this is a love note to bar and restaurant owners out there. Stop letting uninspired musicians hoodwink you into hiring their tired act and we’ll come back to your place, check in on Facebook and promote what’s going on.

Sincerity is the brilliant, often ignored stepchild in the world of local cover bands. And yet that’s what we come hoping to see, it’s why we stay, and what we hope to experience in the few precious hours we get on weekends to visit with live musicians. It isn’t asking too much for intensity, or at least accuracy. But when you’re busy chasing the next paying gig – so much that you fumble lyrics and hope to pacify your audience with mediocrity, it isn’t long before the audience moves elsewhere.






Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival

Kingsmen Park, 100 Memorial Parkway

Thousand Oaks, CA   91362


Everyone has a different idea of a good time. For some it’s when a 100-degree day moves aside for a perfect balmy evening, and CLU’s Shakespeare Festival presents “Othello” in Kingsmen Park. As the birds head off to their evening nests and frogs sound from a nearby stream, a beautiful production unfolds – making it easy to see why this might be some people’s idea a good time.


And then, there’s Iago.


Iago has served as the original blueprint for every super-villain for 400 years running, who hates all which can be good in the human race and, with cunning deftness, intends to destroy it at every turn.


We’re introduced to Jason McBeth’s Iago as he approaches a senator’s home and shouts out an alarm that the senator’s daughter (Rachel Seiferth) and a moor are in the process of “making the beast with two backs,” still one of the greatest semi-bawdy descriptions of sex ever penned. It doesn’t take long for the senator (Jason D. Rennie) to get suckered into hating this noble Moor named Othello, just as Iago wants.


“Trust not your daughters words,” the senator bellows, “but what you see them act.” And yet if Iago has his way, he will convince the senator and all those around that his own actions are noble, in their interest, and that no one else is to be trusted. McBeth’s version of Iago is made unattractive in his gait and his hatred, all while clad in a semi-contemporary black leather jacket. This Iago is a love-destroying earworm with a dash of Sha-Na-Na.


“Put but money in thy purse,” Iago insists, a Shakespearean Gordon Gecko. He cons Cassio (Connor Sullivan), a handsome young man of virtue to get drunk with a raucous gang and lures him into a fight, then retrieves Othello just in time to see Cassio brawling.


Cassio mourns the loss his reputation. Iago scoffs at this “false imposition” and encourages him to make amends by reaching out to Othello’s wife. Iago has created an opportunity, of course, to bring Othello in at just the right moment to see Casio running away from a clandestine meeting with his wife. This, and a well-placed handkerchief  gives Othello the smidge of proof that something’s awry.


Matt Orduna plays our title character with all the power and goodness, human failings and eventual murderous capacity of the best Othello’s. When poisoned by Iago’s suspicions, Orduna physically reacts. “Farewell, the tranquil mind” he mourns, eventually strangling his Desdemona in her bedroom. Made to realize his error by Iago’s wife Emilia (Angela Gulner, who leaves us wondering if we can trust her or not), Othello falls upon his sword. This leaves in a final pool of designer Leigh Allen’s light the lone smirking figure of Iago, our incarnate of evil, to carry on his work. McBeth’s characterization was enough to inspire a Sunday evening crowd to audibly boo & hiss, leaving many wanting his blood.


The joy of such a rich and timeless story in Kingsmen Park is enhanced by the fact that its presentation is done without the aid or distraction of a single glowing screen. Christopher Hoag’s subtle sound cues help the action, and Andrea Heilman’s set is simple, solid, functional and colorful; a balanced kaleidoscope of muted colors fill the background without detracting from the action.


The 22nd Annual Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival has given us yet another rare treat: an analog presentation of a timeless tale in a beautiful natural setting – a classic experience for family and friends alike that is worth waiting for. After all, “how poor are they who had not patience.”



June 29 thru August 5, 2018

Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival

Kingsmen Park, 100 Memorial Parkway

Thousand Oaks, CA   91362

Tickets: 805-493-3452 or online at:




Ask comedian Matt Neal what motivates him to put together a local comedy show and he’ll tell you.


“I live in Newbury Park. This way I don’t have to drive so far.” Granted, most big comedy venues are rooted in the Los Angeles area, but there’s definitely a market for Neal’s profession out here. “So many people have come up to me afterward and said ‘that was my first time at a comedy show! We had so much fun!’”


Neal keeps his approach simple: he checks in with local venue owners and sees what night is their slowest. “Is there a night they don’t pay much attention to? We show them how we bring a value. My co-producer, Sam Goldstein, is excellent. It doesn’t break (the venue’s) budget, and we make sure our comics are paid.” Comics get something else valuable when entertaining local audiences: the coveted value of stage time.


“Most of the time we can get comics ten minutes on stage. It gives them a chance to hone new material. Particularly shows in bars. If a comic can get a rolling laugh in a bar, that could be an applause break in a real comedy club.”


Neal brings a powerhouse line-up Thursday, June 21 to the Five Threads Brewing Company in Westlake Village, near the Four Seasons Hotel. The venue serves a variety of craft beers and a food truck will be on hand. Reservations aren’t required and there is no cover charge.


Joining Neal will be headliner Laurie Kilmartin, an Emmy-nominated writer for Conan O’Brien and author of the new memoir ‘Dead People Suck.’ Billed as ‘a guide for survivors of the newly departed,’ the book is a sarcastic masterpiece about Kilmartin’s experience of losing her father.


“Laughing together in a room full of people can be a tribal experience,” Neal says of their profession. People come up to him after shows and share their similar life experiences. “We laugh at the ridiculousness of the human experience. Everyone has crazy family issues. If we can have fun with a message, then we know we’ve done our job.”


Photo: Craig Bennett,

Neal, who originally hails from Philadelphia, learned some of the local ropes playing venues as a drummer after moving to the Conejo Valley in 2007. He started doing stand-up in 2011 “after studying for a year, watching a lot of shows at the Ice House” and being encouraged by comedian Joe Rogan. “If you’re not dead yet,” Rogan instructed, “go do it.”


Also joining the bill on Thursday night will be Deirdre Devlin, Jacob Givens, Jerry Gosin and Jon Schabl. Show begins at 8pm. Matt Neal will also appear at Comedy Ahoy! in Marina del Rey on July 27th.



Brewing Comedy @ Five Threads

Five Threads Brewery

31133 Via Colinas  #109

Westlake Village, CA  91362

For information: 805-457-5990



California Lutheran University’s Theatre Arts Dept
141 Memorial Parkway, Thousand Oaks, CA
November 9 –19, 2017


Any theatre producer or director will tell you that a little preparation goes a long way: aAny advantage a staff can give their actors is time well-spent. Sometimes, that credo spills over to audiences as well.


CLU is well-known for making Shakespeare accessible to contemporary audiences, whether through their annual Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival or in cases such as their newest offering, Shakespeare’s latter work Cymbeline. Director Michael J. Arndt provides audiences with a clever tool from the get-go: the program contains a synopsis of the show’s major plot points. Rather than act as spoiler alerts, audiences are instead given the opportunity to quickly browse a valuable reference of who’s who that cleverly aides their journey through Cymbeline’s action.


Costume designer Noelle Raffy pairs well with Arndt’s vision for Cymbeline, employing simple yet distinct touches that aide the viewers grasp of the show’s characters as they careen through the script’s twists and turns. The dress of Princess Imogen (Danika Elvine) is a memorable blend of muted cornflower blue and Claret, just the kind of colors afforded a princess that would set her apart from commoners of the time. And when the First Lord played by Jordan Erickson emerges, his character is set off with a brilliant red velvet coat and memorable shock of blonde hair that works well to distinguish him throughout.


Cymbeline’s’ plot gets thick early when Imogen’s husband Posthumus (Francisco Hermosillo III) takes part in a hot dice game. Here, a feisty Italian named Iachimo (sharply played by Christian Lipps) brags that he can shake Posthumus’ confidence in his wife Imogen’s fidelity. Iachimo stows himself in a trunk until she’s asleep, then steps out to gather the kind of personal knowledge (and a little physical evidence) that can convince Posthumus that his faithful wife is indeed a strumpet.


To allow the action to unfold smoothly, set designer Andrea Heilman has chosen to keep things simple. Three essential, jagged arches move easily in place to imply scenery rather than complicate Arndt’s stage. When Belarius (Mario Grandos) and his two children (Bridget De Maria and Jonathan Irwin) emerge from their cave one brilliant morning, their dwelling is implied through those three arches stacked in just such a way, aided only by light sound effects and, of course, Shakespeare’s language. The dedication to simplicity frees the audience to follow the language and story – and the actors to deliver it. Technical director Josh Clabaugh has adapted a series of ramps leading away from the foot of the stage, allowing the cast to enter/exit handily around the audience. The result is that theatre-goers may feel as if they’re not just witnessing the performance but, to a degree, living within it.


And as anyone who appreciates Shakespeare will admit, what would usually be a fairly dry read on the page becomes a whole different affair when performed. A show such as Cymbeline is a true measure of an actor’s skill and a host of outstanding performances add another critical dimension to CLU’s production. Notable are Anna De Maria’s Queen of Britain, who commands the stage with a fluidity and a withering look capable of striking fear into the hearts of servants and audiences alike. Equally commanding are her King, played with an adept range by Chris Clyne, and Kyle Poppert, who plays the Queen’s jilted son Cloten. Poppert and his First Lord (Erickson) provide equal parts intrigue and comic relief, particularly Poppert, whose take is a perfect balance of narcissism and the dastardly anger of a slighted suitor. The booming voice of Mayhar Mirzazadeh’s Roman General will have audiences worried of his impending invasion and Dylan Iannolo plays Pisanio with a surprising and impressive blend of personal confidant and stout private body guard.


The production of Cymbeline is further aided by a gentle soundtrack devised by Chris Hoag, a modern device which helps engage Arndt’s audiences and keeps things moving. In a particular scene when Iachimo emerges from the his hiding place in Imogen’s bedroom, a few quick beats of a dark tone lets us know that the bad guy is on the prowl. The soundtrack is a nice addition and tastefully highlights the action.
CYMBELINE - Explanation
As a latter work of Shakespeare’s, Cymbeline could be described as an almost epic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of production. There is room enough here for such gentle phrases as “society is no comfort to one not sociable” as well as an epic and climactic battle scene that rages onstage and off. Audiences will find themselves surrounded by the grunting and charging and swinging of metal swords and shields in an orgy of hand-to-hand stage combat, yet in the end, all the show’s secret affairs will unfurl in a clear and audience-friendly conclusion. All’s well that ends well, and in Cymbeline, all is indeed well.


CLU’s Theatre Arts Department
141 Memorial Pkwy, Thousand Oaks, CA
November 9 – 11 and 9 – 18 at 8pm
November 19 at 2pm
Tickets: 805-493-3452 or






On stage October 26, 27, 28, 2017

Playhouse 101

28720 Canwood St #108, Agoura Hills, CA 91301

Thursday & Sat, 8pm – Saturday 2pm Matinee

Special Friday Midnight show



Oh, how Agoura has needed a live theatre since the Stage Door closed years ago. A town so intimately linked to the entertainment industry should be ripe for just such a venture, and now the city has reason to celebrate: not only is live theatre alive and well again, but this Halloween it’s rapping upon our chamber door.


Lit Live Productions revives A.D. Hasselbring’s “Dark Heart of Poe” this weekend, a live adaptation of the macabre writer’s finest stories. Austin Miller and Travis Winterstein breathe strikingly fresh life into Poe’s crisp language, presenting the tales as a series of interwoven dialogues.


A show so rich in language requires a cast prepared to use everything at their disposal to maintain their audience’s attention, and director Morgan Keough has done well to help Miller and Winterstein dig deep into their bag of tricks. The duo’s performances are both highly entertaining and worthy of Poe’s classic works.


Upon entering, the actors each don a scarf from a coat rack, the two pieces of cloth as intertwined as the dialogue and the actors themselves remain throughout. Soon Winterstein is leading the audience through ‘To’ and ‘Dreams,’ which Hasselbring has cleverly written to bounce back and forth like an echo. They lead into the well-known tale of Prince Prospero in ‘The Masque of the Red Death,’ and utilizing Brandon Molnar’s lighting sequences, Winterstein & Miller walk us through the mansion where the masquerade party is being held. Here, Winterstein as Prospero confronts a man he thinks has come dressed in a tasteless costume – only to find the man is the very thing he fears most. Winterstein coughs his way through the show in a way that will have audiences recoiling for fear of catching whatever he seems to have; you might think he slept out in the cold some nights as a method acting technique.


Next it’s Miller’s turn to lead us through the slow process of creeping into an old man’s room with the intent of murdering him and burying his body beneath the floorboards in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’ When the police arrive, no matter how calm Miller pretends to be or what noise he makes he can’t drive out the beating of the hideous heart and his all-consuming guilt. Miller’s control of the material is excellent here, supported again by Winterstein’s hacking cough.


When Winterstein takes to a desk and hears the knocking upon his chamber door in Poe’s finest work, it’s a little like hearing a classic rock band perform new material before kicking into their familiar greatest hit. ‘The Raven’ was first written for a New York magazine in 1845 and still stands as the Baltimore writer’s most recognizable and arguably perfect work. It’s a delight to see it performed on one of our newer local stages, couched by the equally splendid ‘El Dorado,’ ‘Dreams’ and ‘The Cask of Amontillado.’ Lit Live’s production will leave Poe fans and audiences pleased – if not coughing along.


Dark Heart of Poe

October 26-28, 2017

Playhouse 101

28720 Canwood St #108, Agoura Hills, CA

Tickets: 805-208-8686 or online at:

Tickets: $17 – 20.00, $25 for Friday Midnight Performance

More info:




A Presentation of One-Act Plays

Santa Paula Theatre Center


Thru June 19, 2017




Those who survived the 1970’s will remember the liberation of the Kellogg’s Variety Pack. Hungry morning risers were no longer beholden to just one choice; every day brought one of eight different tastes, until one eventually became a new favorite.


Playzapalooza organizer John McKinley has delivered eight solid one-act plays to the boards of the historic Santa Paula Theatre, and local audiences might find it hard to choose just one favorite.


First up are Allen Noel and L.J. Stevens in “Not Enough.” The onstage couple deliver with the speed and charm of the original Bickersons, if Don Ameche and Francis Langford could’ve done freeze-frame and spoken directly to their audience. The technique is a reminder that we’re witnessing just another day in the life of a couple finding their way, and that finding one’s way in a relationship is a task that never leaves the to-do list.


Next up are Erin Hollander and Stephen Santos in “Melancholy is My BFF.” They’re not sad or depressed or maudlin, but rather the type of minds who gravitate toward the heavy moments in life. Hollander is particularly charming as Uber-driving Eliza, a woman whose melancholy leads her to drive endlessly, eventually meeting equally melancholy-addicted bartender Brendan.


“Psyche With an E” is a showcase for the boundless energy of Anthony Baldonado, who provides a charmingly spastic insight to one man’s male psyche (Sergio Arias) as he tries to overcome his self-doubt (and knocking libido) to talk to a cute woman (Bethany Archambault) at an engagement party. This is one Psyche who’s going to use every trick in the box to help his man get his girl.


One of Playzapalooza’s most charming and reaffirming works is “Independence Day,” the tale of Elizabeth (Jennifer Skutley), who has come to perform the ritual of accompanying her ailing mother (Sindy McKay) to the city’s annual fireworks display. Playwright Rhea Maccallum’s mother/daughter exchange is so well-written and performed that audiences might have a hard time believing these two are only actors and not actually related.


After a short break in the action Playzapalooza comes roaring back with “The Twinkie Defense.” The moment LJ Stevens appears from the upper stage right door and flashes a knockout smile, even the most cynical critic is put on notice. Her delightful one-woman dialogue is among the most likable performances in recent years, and the very reason theatre-goers spend money on tickets. Stevens oozes with the type of charm and daring that every party should have as a guest.


It isn’t often we get to see a show in which a woman who doesn’t speak and barely moves steals our attention, but Nancy Hullihan manages to do so in “The Dancing Lessons.” Her daughter Catherine (Leslie AnnRenee) draws random objects from a box to try and stir her mother’s memory, the recollections of which we see played out with charm and authenticity upstage by Samantha Winters and Dylan Pitts. As Catherine continues to look and hope for a sign, any sign, that her mother is still in there, we share her relief when it comes.


“Wishes” finds Scott (Anthony Baldonado) standing in a city fountain, pant cuffs rolled up, picking up coins and clutching them close to his chest. When his girlfriend Rebecca (Jennifer Skutley) comes along and catches him, he tries to encourage her to join him (he’s brought her hip-waders in the car) in embracing the one, flukish talent Scott possesses. He wishes she would understand that his unusual ability isn’t a negative in their relationship, but something that is simply too interesting to let go of.


Playzapalooza’s final piece, “Pop Star,” finds young sensation Torin (Dylan Pitts) back in his manager’s office after a world-wide tour. Despite all the success and a new-found love for Civil War battlefields, his ‘team’ of Ben and Suzie (Jake Mailey and Nancy Hullihan) are about to encourage him to do something drastic, dangerous, and downright illegal in order to stay on the public’s radar. And if he says ‘no thanks?’ Hey don’t tell Torin – but the industry will always find another face to fill the public’s eye.


If one considers Playzapalooza the Kellogg’s Variety Pack of theatre, audiences will find a good balance of the sweet and the wholesome, the things that are good for you and the things – like a sugary yellow, Twinkie, that you just can’t resist.




Santa Paula Theatre Center

125 South 7th Street, Santa Paula, CA


Thru June 19, 2017


Showtimes: Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2:30pm

Tickets $20 adults, students/seniors $18

Ticket info: 805-525-4645 or online at:





And Lightning Struck: Mary Shelley & the Curse of Creation
Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center
3050 E. Los Angeles Ave, Simi Valley, CA
February 9-12, Thursday-Saturday 8pm
Sunday matinee, 2pm


Imagine you could have everything you ever dreamed of, and when that dream comes true, it turns out to be a bit more than you bargained for – a monster of your own creation that is, at times, beyond your control.


Playwright Robert Weibezahl presents the excellent new work And Lightning Struck: Mary Shelley & the Curse of Creation at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center this weekend. And like the creative lightning that struck the Frankenstein author’s pen one night in a remote Swiss room almost 200 years ago, Weibezahl’s play will be here for one weekend only.


Those who love the creation of literature, Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, or just a good ghost story will delight in Weibezahl’s new creation. Part biopic and part product of a vivid imagination, Lightning achieves the unique balance of being wildly entertaining without bogging down in history. Weibezahl keeps the audience moving thru Shelley’s extraordinary life, and shows how the monster she created often came back to haunt her throughout her life.


We first meet 33 year-old Mary Shelley (Kay Capasso) in her Bournemouth, England parlor in 1830. A young man named Matthews (Cole Wagner) has come on behalf of her readers to convince Mary to write a new introduction to Frankenstein. Matthews is a bit of a literary wonk; he knows the work that influenced Mary, as well as what came to life in that flash of Mary’s pen. Despite his charm, Shelley is initially reluctant to recite the tale of how she bore her creature, born out of a “chaos of the heart.”


Through Mary’s recollections, Weibezahl delivers the characters central in that chaotic period, particularly a bohemian visit to Lake Geneva, Switzerland as a violent storm raged. Currently thick in her courtship with Percy Shelley (Schafer Bourne), this eager young Mary (Jennifer Ridgeway) brings along sister Claire (Alyssa Villaire) and the thoroughly pompous Lord Byron (Evan Smith). It is here, during a four-day long storm, that Byron dares each guest to write a ghost story.


Polidori (Cole Wagner) weaves a vampire tale to keep his audience on edge. As the storm rages on, Mary finally rises to the challenge and for the first time, commits her infamous creature to paper. Soon after, Weibezahl brings him off Mary’s page and directly onto the stage.


The Creature, played with clear & precise fluidity by Tom Mesmer, is a poor, miserable wretch his creator refuses to call ‘monster.’ The Creature’s appearance brings a new and necessary dynamic to Lightning; as a device it pushes the play beyond mere biopic and, as later Hollywood movies would exclaim, brings it truly alive.


As Mary embraces him, we see how her greatest joy has also been this creator’s great trap. The cast slowly assembles around Shelley once again, each having played a part in creating this sometimes uncontrollable monster that is an extraordinary woman’s greatest achievement, burden, and ultimately, her destiny.



And Lightning Struck: Mary Shelley

& the Curse of Creation

Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

3050 E. Los Angeles Ave, Simi Valley, CA

February 9-12, Thursday-Saturday

Sunday matinee, 2pm


Tickets: Call or 805-583-7900, or online at:

A Blues in Tune


Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks CA

Playing thru February 4th, 2017


Neil Simon had the rarest gift any playwright can own: to make audiences laugh while presenting characters we recognize from our own time on Earth.

Erin Fagundes’ new staging of Simon’s “Biloxi Blues” has a few familiar characteristics: Fagundes directed the first in Simon’s ‘Eugene Morris Jerome’ trilogy ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ on the same stage in 2015. Then, her show also starred young Benjamin Glasner.

Now, like the slightly grown Eugene, both Glasner and the production have matured into a solid presentation. Glasner’s delivery is clear and his comedic timing is often brilliant. Likewise, the kinks of the 2015 production have been worked out: the sound is clear, actors miked, and stage manager Don Johnson moves John Holroyd’s sets around so smoothly and quietly, audiences will be hard-pressed to notice they’re happening.

In the play’s opening scene, Eugene introduces the future members of his company as they ride an old train to boot camp in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1943. With a clever bit of staging, Simon presents his characters as the metaphors he’d like them to be: Eugene is wide awake and narrating, Don (Noah Terry) is singing dreamily while he sleeps, the battle-ready Wykowski (Nick Bemrose) sits like a coiled snake ready to strike if disturbed, and the principled young man presumably ‘above it all,’ Epstein (Steven Silvers) sleeps on the baggage rack above the others.

It isn’t long before the men have arrived in their new barracks and Silvers’ Epstein is irritating his ‘intellectual inferiors,’ namely the face of the not-always-rational US Army, one Sgt Toomey (Bryan White). With Eve Kiefer’s sharp eye on the sound board and a fresh shave job around his noggin, White barely needs to amplify in order to make both his platoon and the audience jump at his command.

Epstein, of course, isn’t swayed. He’ll become Toomey’s foil and favorite toilet scrubber, and it isn’t until a run-in with a 300lb. Army cook that Epstein ever shows a crack in his principled defiance. Silvers’ affected tone, vocal pitch, mannerisms and posture are thoroughly one of an actor who is in his element, and it’s a pleasure to watch.

Epstein and Eugene have another foe, one closer to home. Pvt. Wykowski often comes dangerously close to echoing the very bigotry their country’s enemy espouses when he shows his racial and anti-Semitic stripe. Later, when he raids and reads aloud Eugene’s personal diary, he finds that the writer believes, despite his flaws, he’s this ‘khaki idiot’ is also the one most likely to win the Medal of Honor.

After all the back-breaking drills and marches finally comes a beloved weekend pass. Eugene and his buddies go directly to a lovely lady of the night (Judy Diderich), where we see some of Glasner’s best comedic timing on display. Eugene, a virgin, wrestles with the reality of climbing into bed with a woman with such comedic effect that some in the audience might feel tempted to pause and applaud.

Before their ten weeks are up, the men of Company C will express some of their deepest fears and dreams, and for some, those dreams might ultimately come true. For Epstein it’s revenge, for Eugene it’s meeting the lovely Daisy (Shelby Corley) and for the rest, it’s just to get out of Biloxi, into the war, and all things willing, to beat the odds and go home again intact.



Thru February 4th, 2017

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tickets: 805-495-3715 or online at:


A Handmaiden’s Gift to the Theatre World



Margaret Atwood

2016, Hogarth Press


Like every Artistic Director milling around the theatre world, Felix Phillips has a dream: to present the most cutting-edge Shakespearean productions any small town has ever seen. To “raise the bar as high as the moon.”


Felix builds a dynasty. The festival becomes an annual local highlight. A cottage industry forms. Feeling the height of his powers, Felix believes himself indispensable.


The only problem: Felix’s productions border on ridiculous. In his new interpretation of The Tempest he’ll have a quadriplegic Caliban riding around on a skateboard. Fairies are re-imagined as aliens and vampires. What Felix believes his greatest triumph is in reality fodder for those looking to fill his shoes.


And here we see Atwood’s clever tack; each character delivered by the author replicates that of Shakespeare’s great tragedy. Soon, like Prospero himself, Felix finds himself targeted by Tony & Sal, ambitious local politicians who see the arts festival as a springboard to their own careers.


Hag-Seed is part of Random House’s Hogarth project, reintroducing Shakespeare to mainstream literature. Atwood’s modern retelling of The Tempest is complete and its cast amazingly appealing.


Atwood opens her story by putting us in the thick of the Felix’s tempest. Like Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, it’s still a very effective tool, baiting the audience early on with the heart of the action and a glimpse of the story’s conclusion. That moment is so intriguing, we’ll ride it out chapter after chapter to see it come to fruition.


Atwood, best known for her dystopian 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, draws out Felix quickly, disgraced and dismissed from the festival, finding exile in a small hovel built by early pioneers. There, haunted by the ghost of his late daughter, he installs a few modern refinements: electricity and the internet. Soon he spies opportunity; a local men’s prison is assembling a theatrical troupe to introduce the creative arts, as performed by fellow inmates. Ah yes, The Tempest is again in his grasp.


The correctional facility is a setting Felix can relate to. The director of the program knows who he was and conspires to keep his former identity a secret. Felix makes good on his promise; in exchange for a life much less glamorous Felix begins his work with the inmates in search of redemption – and his ultimate revenge. Only in a book like Atwood’s will you find hardened criminals replacing blockhouse profanity with Shakespearean dialect: Scurvy. Pied ninny. Hag Seed.


Felix is hatching an elaborate plot to ensnare Tony & Sal, neutralize their careers, and restore his previous glory. But now, with his greatest achievement – his Tempest triumphantly staged, he’s free to choose: move on, or remain a prisoner of hate.




Margaret Atwood

2016, Hogarth Press

Random House, 301 pgs.


The Fusion Grill



2024 Avenida De los Arboles

Thousand Oaks, CA


A quick check on Wikipedia shows that fusion is defined as: “the process of combining two or more distinct entities into a new whole.” Owners Boroka and Jorge Soriano definitely know something about that.

Boroka, a transplant from Romania, and husband Jorge, from Mexico City, have married a world of ingredients into an intriguing and pleasing menu at the Fusion Grill, now located at 2024 Avenida De los Arboles in Thousand Oaks.

Defined as “eclectic Italian, French and Asian” cuisine, you might recognize some names involved with Fusion Grill. The restaurant has recently relocated from an Amgen-adjacent locale in Newbury Park, to the former site of Chen’s in Oakbrook Plaza. Husband and chef Jorge worked for the former Galletto’s Ristorante in Westlake Village, so it will be no surprise to customers new and old that his touch with ingredients is just as deft and appealing. “He has the touch,” Boroka says.

And fusion isn’t just a convenient name for a new restaurant; here, it’s a theme. The decor and furniture could be Japanese influenced, or contemporary American. Focus on one spot of the room and you’re in a wine bar; another, you’re watching a flat screen at your local sports bar. A number of patrons on a Monday night weren’t disappointed when they came in for dinner and found the regular Monday Night Football game on.

The menu you’ll grab upon entering and number card on your table might remind you of another one of Galletto’s old neighbors, the Natural Cafe. The Soriano’s offer nine kinds of salad, seven types of wraps, six sandwiches and five burgers – covering everything from a standard cheeseburger to an Angus beef Jalapeno burger.

The pasta department is Jorge’s ‘eclectic’ part of Fusion’s description. There’s Fusion Chicken Penne with a creamy, tomato chipotle sauce, and the Penne Arrabiata is a pure-tasting blend of kalamota olives, capers, goat cheese and fresh basil.

Fusion’s steak salad had lean, perfectly cooked slices and a light lemon olive oil dressing that isn’t overbearing. The Ahi Tuna wrap is generous and comes with a creative blend of wasabi aioli dip.

Beer and wine are available. Soda drinkers who hate how heavy sodas make them feel will be delighted with the Stubborn Cola dispenser. Their sodas contain real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup. And for those in need of a serious fix or just a good cup of coffee, Jorge has brought in a full-tilt espresso machine. “My husband’s second car,” Boroka calls it.

There’s also a breakfast menu starting at 7am offering steak & eggs, omelettes and a variety of sandwiches. Boroka makes a serious glass of OJ with her Spanish-made orange juice squeezing machine. And if you’re the busy type, it’s easy to find an outlet for your devices, and wi-fi is always available.

On a recent visit, Boroka was seen pouring two glasses of wine. Seeing she was faced with a dinner rush of customers, the man who’d ordered the wine retrieved the glasses from his host, giving her one less thing to do. The moment one enters the Fusion Grill, a genuine smile and greeting announces that a spirit of cooperation isn’t an exception here but a recurring theme.

Toward closing time, an older gentleman with a stoop and a cane struggled to push the door open on a windy night. A young man in a hoodie swooped quickly around and held it for him. At the counter, asked once more about her new location, Boroka said: “this place, it’s our third child.”

And it all starts with a smile.


2024 Avenida De los Arboles

Thousand Oaks, CA


Take-out available