Playzapalooza!

Playzapalooza

Playzapalooza

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 (his 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 that 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.

 

 

Playzapalooza

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:

http://www.santapaulatheatercenter.org

 

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY

shelley1

 

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.

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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:

http://www.simi-arts.org/events.aspx?event=366

A Blues in Tune

biloxi3

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.

 

BILOXI BLUES

Thru February 4th, 2017

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tickets: 805-495-3715 or online at:

http://www.conejoplayers.org

 

A Handmaiden’s Gift to the Theatre World

hagseed

HAG-SEED

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.

 

 

HAG-SEED

Margaret Atwood

2016, Hogarth Press

Random House, 301 pgs.

 

The Fusion Grill

fusion-1

THE FUSION GRILL

2024 Avenida De los Arboles

Thousand Oaks, CA

805-241-0449

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.

THE FUSION GRILL

2024 Avenida De los Arboles

Thousand Oaks, CA

805-241-0449

Take-out available

PARADE

parade1

 

Hillcrest Center for the Arts

403 W. Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks CA

Playing thru September 24, 2016

Friday & Sat, 8pm – Sunday 2pm Matinee

 

In a 1959 sermon, Dr. Martin Luther King said “the soft-minded man always fears change. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.”

 

“Parade” is the musical based on the true story of bookkeeper Leo Frank (played by Joshua Finkel), a Brooklyn Jew who represented just such a threat to the people of post-Civil War Georgia. When Frank accepted a job with the National Pencil Company in Marietta, his new neighbors were mostly tolerant of the new Yankee despite the lingering memory of a defeated Confederacy.

 

Then, 13 year-old Mary Phagan (Ashley Kiele Thomas) is found dead in the basement of the pencil company after receiving her week’s pay. Fearful, suspicious, and with more than a little leftover hostility and prejudice, the townspeople quickly point at the new guy in town. Leo is locked up without much hope or evidence, and witnesses are coached to deliver a series of twisted tales to ensure a conviction.

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The opening number of “Parade,” ‘The Old Red Hills of Home’ is beautifully delivered by the young solider played by Thomas Hollow and an old Confederate (Steve Perren) at the foot of the audience. Actors don’t wear mikes in the intimate space, which has been simply and appropriately staged by set designer Jeff Calnitz. Set pieces suggest rather than overwhelm, and the effect is ideal to the space and allows the action to flow.

 

Likewise, costume designer Lori Lee has her cast in thoroughly authentic and accurate dress, from the bright dresses of the governor’s ball right down to Mary Phagan’s boots. Even when a group of newsboys jump onstage for five seconds, Lee delivers them in period-correct dress.

 

The war may be over, but little has changed. In an early scene we’re introduced to the Frank household where Lucille (Dana Shaw) drops a pin on the floor. Rather than pick it up, she’ll wait until their colored maid Minnie (Brittney S. Wheeler) comes back to pick it up. Before show’s end, Lucille Frank will be fighting a whole new war, defending her husband in the powerful number ‘You Don’t Know this Man.’ She reminds Marietta that a man who pays his bills early and writes his mother every Sunday isn’t the type to randomly murder a young woman.

 

Played with equal parts sympathy and rage is Mary’s boyfriend Frankie (Sam Herbert). The young boy’s affection for Mary is established on a street car in the early number ‘The Picture Show,’ and after Mary’s death, Herbert sings ‘It Don’t Make Sense to Me’ with a smooth, almost heartbroken beauty. Here, playwright Alfred Uhry presents the irreversible damage done to both couples.

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As Marietta residents prepare to mark Confederate Memorial Day, Leo sits shaking his head. “I don’t know why anyone would want to celebrate losing a war.” Leo soon finds out that the townsfolk are looking for “a new chance to fight the war.” And with his indictment for Mary’s murder, just such an opportunity arrives. For a crooked prosecutor (Paul Panico) and particularly a local newspaper reporter (a Clark Kent-ish Taylor Nelson), that opportunity is too rich not to be seized.

 

When the out-going governor (Robert Weibezahl) begins to investigate the circumstances of Leo’s sham trial, the people of Marietta react according to Martin Luther King’s script: seized by the pain of a new idea, they seize one last opportunity to take matters into their own hands.

 

Unlike many musicals, in which a thin plotline supports a score of songs, “Parade” has both lively numbers and a significant message based on true events. It’s a new idea, and one that is not in the least bit painful to watch unfold.

 

 

Fridays & Saturday 8pm, 2pm Sunday matinee

Thru September 24th, 2016

Hillcrest Center for the Arts

403 W. Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tickets: 805-381-1246 or online at:

http://www.hillcrestarts.com

Tickets: $17.50 – 20.00

FARRAGUT NORTH

Farragut

FARRAGUT NORTH

 

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks CA

Playing thru September 17, 2016

 

If you’re feeling like the political season has been dragging you through the muck and mire, you’re not alone. American audiences are no doubt in the mood for a positive message or wholesome diversion and a bit of entertainment to offset the inundation of an unusually negative election season.

While the current production of ‘Farragut North’ contains some worthwhile performances, unfortunately it has not been staged this time around to serve audiences as either diversion or entertainment.

Any successful theatrical production requires three essential elements: script, acting, and visual impact. Playwright Beau Willimon, creator of Netflix’s political drama House of Cards has provided a solid piece of writing. Following that, the acting of “Farragut’s” current production is anchored by two standout performances: Parker Harris as politico Stephen Bellamy, who carries the show from beginning to end with conviction and depth, and local stalwart John Eslick, who as Tom Duffy gives us a southern-tinged version of the creeps (a worthy mention also goes to Bryan White, whose cut-throat take on strategist Paul Zara has shining moments.)

Unfortunately the third department of visual impact is where ‘Farragut’ falters. Director Elissa Polansky has given her actors little more than an empty stage to work with. The set is sparsely decorated with oversized chess pieces that double as both decor and functioning furniture; we quickly get the metaphor as they’re moved from scene to scene. Then the gimmick wears thin, and the simplistic choice grows limiting to the cast and visually dull. A lack of identifying detail is thorough; a reporter enters without even a simple pen & pad or electronic tablet in her hand to remind the audience of her role.

With an impressive theatre’s full resources at their disposal, much more could have been done to remedy “Farragut’s” visual aesthetics. The insistence on the chess pieces, the stage might have been remedied with creative chess-themed effects. Projection would certainly have helped: a swarm of bodies moving about during the play’s airport terminal scene would have provided viewers with a sense of place – but four moved chess pieces are all we get. Similarly, when Parker beds young intern Molly (Katy Jarvis), only a bed is introduced and we’re left to wonder… are they at a motel? Someone’s house? The projection of a seedy no-tell motel sign or other establishing demarcation would help here.

Political strategists know that if a candidate has a good story to dress up – he’s a war hero, she’s a rags-to-riches story – voters are more likely to pay attention and follow thru to the ballot box. Similarly, if paying audiences are to endure a slog through the political gutter, the reward of an aesthetically pleasing show isn’t asking too much.

 

 

FARRAGUT NORTH

Thru September 17, 2016

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tickets: 805-495-3715 or online at:

http://www.conejoplayers.org

AVENUE Q

Ave Q 2

 

AVENUE Q

Hillcrest Center for the Arts

403 W. Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks CA

August 17 – 20, 2016, 8pm  (This week only)

 

 

Think life is horrible and that it sucks to be you? Come take a walk down the geographically-undesirable Avenue Q, where a young man without a purpose can live in a building full of singing monsters and have Gary Coleman for a landlord.

 

Production company YA4Ever has drafted a group of their finest alumni for a pleasant outdoor production of the R-rated puppet-musical “Avenue Q.” On a small corner amphitheater at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, and for one weekend only, the group will bring Sean Harrington’s puppets to life for the high-energy, hilariously un-PC musical.

 

Director Kevin Gilmond couldn’t have chosen a more perfect setting; the evening weather is slated to be lovely thru the weekend, and when a plane passes overhead or a siren goes by in the city below, well, it just lends a little free ambience to Avenue Q.

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Those familiar with “Q” will see this particular production has two clear strengths: its core material, and the ensemble energy of its players. The material drips with topical sarcasm and was written for a group like YA4Ever; there are times when the audience might wonder if something is scripted and being pulled off really well, or was just invented by the player’s imagination. The ‘Bad Idea Bears,’ who shoot across the stage full of terrible advice, seem particularly infected with this kind of energy; players Chris Reilly and Aly Valles hold back nothing and hit their timing just right, setting the overall tone for the production.

 

Newly arrived in the city, Princeton (Kurt Kemper) gets laid off from his new job before he’s even worked his first day. Like Steve Martin’s Navin Johnson, this sets Princeton on a quest to find his purpose.

 

Here in his new home on Avenue Q, Princeton meets Kate Monster (Natalie Hightower), a part-time school teacher with a beautiful voice who is equally smitten. How does she know Princeton likes her? He makes her a mixed tape. She’s a good sport throughout, even when Princeton takes her to see a show featuring Lucy the Slut (Francesca Barletta). Disgusted, Kate has a moment similar to Elaine Robinson of The Graduate, turning shy and inward when thrust into a situation clearly beneath her.

 

Gilmond kept his orchestra a simple trio: drummer, guitarist and pianist are led by conductor Susan T. Calkins. Similar instructions went to costumer Beth Glasner, whose simple designs don’t draw from the action of the puppets.

 

“Avenue Q” is the Blazing Saddles of contemporary musicals; no sensitive subject or ethnicity is going to get away unscathed. Audiences should be prepared to hear why the internet really exists, how everyone is a little bit racist and that, some days, looking at Kim Kardashian’s fat behind might just be the exercise in schadenfreude you need.

 

Avenue Q

Hillcrest Center for the Arts

403 W. Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks CA

August 17-20, 2016, 8pm

Tickets $15 – 20: 805-381-1246 or online at:

http://www.hillcrstarts.com

 

In the Midst of All That is Good

Eubanks

 

Elite Theatre Company

2731 S. Victoria Ave

Oxnard, CA

Thru August 21, 2016

 

In his now infamous book ‘Into the Wild’ Jon Krakauer chronicled the physical and spiritual journey of a young man vanishing into the American west, hoping to discover something he felt had been lost in the fray of his torn family fabric. Feeling the loss of a once distinct moral compass, Krakauer’s young hero strays through state after state, looking for redemption, and ultimately, belonging.

 

In the Elite Theatre’s latest offering, local theatrical jack-of-all-trades Tom Eubanks presents his new play ‘In the Midst of All That is Good.’ Out here in the wild Eubanks delivers the Haggard family; and like the characters of a Krakauer book, they too have retreated to a remote campsite in the American west to reestablish lines of communication after a scandal that cost them their family’s moral compass.

 

From the moment audiences open a program they’re made familiar with Eubanks’ proximity to the material; a son of a preacher himself, Eubanks drew from his personal experience in drawing the Haggard family as they scrounge for scraps of truth in a barren, unforgiving land.

 

Bob Haggard (Jeff Ham) has spent a lifetime obeying the word of the Lord as his father has passed it down. Now in crisis, Bob wants to believe that the power of prayer still holds the ability to restore what weaker human impulses have ruined. As the story unfolds, we see the Haggards running from a tarnished reputation, and even in a remote desert campsite, that reputation is a hard thing to shake.

 

Bob’s first appearance onstage brings this home. He staggers in with a bloody foot, not having seen a board with an upturned nail lying right in his path. But Bob, in true Clark Griswold fashion, won’t let it stop the Haggards from getting what they came for: an open, moral path made possible again by communication.

 

No one is trying harder to communicate than Bob’s deaf son Carson (Alex Czajka), who is able to communicate through a blend of slurred shouts and sharp sign language. His biggest fan and sister Maddie (Hannah Eubanks), uses her sign abilities to maintain an inside track with Carson. But Maddie has another agenda. Seeing how adults stop talking when she comes in a room, Maddie pleads: “why are you acting like you don’t want to say something that’s going to hurt me?”

 

Maddie insists she no longer needs sheltering from the bad news that’s barely trickled into her world thru the media, and is ready to forge a new path to the truth that she knows is just lying there, waiting to come out. Here, Hannah Eubanks does a fine job of embodying the angst and frustration of a young mind watching her family splinter before her eyes, knowing she just wants to know what’s going on, despite Bob’s best intentions to protect her.

 

‘In the Midst of All That is Good’ is, at times, Maddie’s show. A detailed and lovely monologue in which the younger Haggard admits that she can’t act like everything’s fine when she doesn’t know what’s going on allows her to capture the anxieties of a young woman trapped by hypocrisy. Maddie Haggard’s thirst for the truth, one she believes can show her a guiding light, is likened to being blind, to not knowing what’s in the room. Even when Maddie sits silent, soaking in the details of her grandfathers story, Maddie’s wordless stare is one of a young woman finally receiving the truth for which she’s longed.

 

All of the action of ‘In the Midst of All That is Good’ takes place in a single campsite. Future producers of the show will see the simplicity of whipping together a few tents and essential camping regalia and voila! Instant set. For the Elite production Eubanks employed Bob Decker and Holly Sherman to get a little more creative. The team developed a series of rock outcroppings to lend passageways from which his cast to duck in and out.

 

And you just know that the Haggard’s past is going to come slithering out from one of those rock walls. The first visitor is Dennis (Johnny Avila), who claims to be harvesting snake venom. Turns out that he and his cohort Vic (Josh Carmichael) are harvesting something else that grows out in this climate, and they’re none too happy about interlopers. Vic is especially upset when he discovers that the elder Haggard, fallen televangelist Lloyd (David Fruechting) was the recipient of a whole lot of his family’s money.

 

“Some things are hard to see, even in plain sight,” says Dennis ironically of the board that punctured Bob’s foot. Lloyd’s proclamation that Dennis is “the iceberg” (that sunk the Titanic) and “static electricity” (that downed the Hindenberg)” turns out to be accurate. It was after all, Dennis that left the board with the nail in it laying in Bob’s path.

 

But, as anyone who’s Clark Griswold-esque father has dragged his family into the wild will know, Bob will just say it’s a mere misstep in the longer search of that elusive, brand new start he’s sure is just around the next corner.

 

 

 

 

IN THE MIDST OF ALL THAT IS GOOD

Elite Theatre Company

2731 S. Victoria Ave

Oxnard, CA

Playing thru August 21, 2016

Friday & Sat, 8pm – Sunday 2pm Matinee

Ticket info: Tickets: (805) 483-5118 or go to www.elitetheatre.org

My Sweet Alibi

Alibi

Photo: Arturo Gil

 

My Sweet Alibi

 

Azar’s Sports Bar

2215 Borchard Rd

Newbury Park, CA

July 17, 2016

 

My Sweet Alibi turned in a nice performance at Azar’s Sports Bar this past Sunday on a lazy afternoon in Newbury Park. Yet rather than settling to be just another cover band straining to deliver FM crowd-pleasers, singer Laurie Martz and her bandmates chose recognizable songs suitable to both the audience and Martz’s vocal range. They weren’t here to welcome you to the jungle; rather, mild cheers sounded when the band built upon the opening chords of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Gold Dust Woman.’

 

The band adapted their sound to fit the venue and their afternoon audience. Between the BBQ in the parking lot and the smartly-mixed sound, it didn’t seem at all unusual to see one band member’s family friend in the front row beside her 11 year-old son, an aspiring drummer, decked in his black Metallica t-shirt clocking every move made by drummer Milo Todesco.

 

Todesco set the tone of the band’s muted, easy sound. The drummer respected the ears of his faithful by swapping out the heavy sticks for a pair of Fat Cat brushes. And the usual bass drum? Todesco put bricks in a plastic wastebasket, the type found beside any desk in any office in town. The result was a unique, perfectly balanced accompaniment.

 

Similarly, guitarist Sam Ortolano brought along a customized Guild acoustic, its sound hole filled with a Keeler processor only a tech head would recognize. Everyone else just enjoyed the warmth of the guitar’s sound and Ortolano’s smooth playing as it matched the band.

 

The whole effort came together particularly well on Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.” Ortolano and bassist Sam Norman grooved perfectly and the lyrics provided one of Martz’s finest vocal moments. Where Winehouse’s voice had been a whiny 70’s Motown squeak, Martz was smooth and rich. A good choice for a lovely afternoon.

 

 

MY SWEET ALIBI

 

Azar’s Sports Bar

2215 Borchard Rd

Thousand Oaks, CA

 

Laurie Martz – vocals

Sam Ortolano – guitar

Sam Norman – bass

Milo Todesco – drums