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hyenaszju_-postcardBurning Gods’ only know what, for laughter and art, Hyenas is a good representation of the wonderful insanity Zombie Joe’s is producing as they push creativity outside the black box.

Brandon Slezak and David Dickens are crafting some amazingly odd out of the box worlds on stage at Zombie Joe’s Underground, Hyenas had me tilting my brain sideways to see the world refracted through whatever dark prism Dickens and Slezak have been viewing the world through. Not only does this make for good theatre, it was quite fun pondering the weirdly intricate world presented through time jumps on stage. Though Dickens would caution it’s best not to ponder his world too deeply for your sanity.

hyenaszju_photo-2The dark tones of both story and set were an ever present weight, aided by a sound design which was full of depth and form. Between the atmosphere projected from the ensemble, the enveloping sound, and the velvety dark lighting, you’re left cocooned in this surreal mad house of a world. A mad house where the patients have taken over it seems. It’s quite the ride, I type grinning ear to ear remembering, this roller coaster through a laughing farce.

Hyenas An American Farce razorbacks through its surreal landscape, focusing your attention on each wonderfully twisted scene long enough for your psyche to draw in closer for a better view, only to pull the wheel hard right jolting your focus off its last center leaving you adrift ready to grasp onto the center of the next scene. Each scene leaves you craving further exploration while giving you just enough to drive the narrative forward.

hyenaszju_photo-5The pace is fast, and eager, ever building. An ever building, or ever changing pace needs consistent energy throughout the ensemble, or the delivery can become muddled, static on the line. Each part of Hyenas was executed well unto itself, but there was a lack of harmony in the energies of the players. It was a thoroughly enjoyable ride, but it could be even more captivating, and brilliantly mind numbing if there was coherence in the energy of the cast. A few ensemble scenes felt as lost as Martin (Ian Michaels) was supposed to feel on his wild journey. Ian drove forward those scenes, finding the thread and bringing the audience along on the journey.

Brandon Slezak is pushing the bounds of what has been tried at ZJU, Hyenas use of sound, light and props wove depth into the infinitely mutable stage at ZJU. To carve out the depth built up on stage; Brandon gives his chief tools, his ensemble, new claws, and clubs to beat a path for to pull the audience through. The use of motion on stage, overly exaggerated mannerisms, pulpy body effects for fight and kill scenes, it’s beautifully macabre and Zombie Joe’s at its most fun.

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Hyenas An American Farce runs at Zombie Joe’s Underground, Fidays & Saturdays 8:30pm through February 25th

All Photos Credit: Zombie Joe’s Underground

For more information please visit: www.zombiejoes.com

 

A City Living the Same Lives

Connectivity, we are all living the same or nearly the same macro lives in this city of dreamers, and the symbolism which hammered this lesson home? Effing Los Angeles TRAFFIC that’s ‘traffic’ as in the four letter word we all hate so much!

The moment you walk into the theatre you’re enveloped in the whimsy of Wonder City The Visceral City Project. From the parking ticket you’ll likely receive to the interactive preshow set, everything about Wonder City tells you you’re in for a happy pleasant evening.

Dreams, Wonder City is a collection of the stories of Los Angeles, in a city of dreamers Wonder City puts the every day on stage and magnifies it, lifts up the common allowing everyone to see how connected, how alike we are. As I said, the show starts with Los Angeles traffic, each player is both vehicle and driver making their way through the clogged and congested arteries. Through the passing, stop and go, cutting off, makeup applying; you see behind two thousand pounds of metal glass and plastic are people, people markedly akin to ourselves.

As the Traffic piece comes to an end, you see the start of threads which can be interpreted by the audience. Wonder City is the type of Play where five people can come up with six or seven different opinions on the interweaving of the subtle story throughout; which is Los Angeles at its core. We all live the same macro events, but how we react becomes a personal experience. Wonder City is a sonderous journey which serves to remind us; that while we experience our individual story, so is everyone else around us.

The players were aided in the painting of this immersive dream by two characters. One character was the unseen, charmingly local, nostalgic and whimsical sound design by Roger K. Weiss. The other character is Los Angeles Herself. Unheard, grand yet tangible; the scenic designs of Meg Cunningham bring to life the Los Angeles we are familiar with of old dreams. With the talented ensemble the living sound, props, scenic set, and blocking, a dream as grand as Los Angeles is put forth on stage, and it makes you feel at home.

Wonder City is a breath of fresh air in a world that presently seems all too polluted. It’s a clean rain to revitalize the spirits of the City of Angeles. Every member of the ensemble deserves mentioning equally, which is why aside from the sound and set I held back on names. The pieces are too grand to be described, and each weaves through Wonder City with nearly equal weight. Wonder City is a collection of dream Venn bubbles overlapping, passing through one another. Each piece can be connected to others, and interpreted in more than one way, and the ensemble weaved this dream beautifully. To pick apart any of the threads would leave one quickly in knots. Sit back, breathe the fresh air, and enjoy Wonder City.

Wonder City Directed by Ashley Steed appears as part of Company Creation Festival, at Son of Semele Theater January 18th through February 12th.

For more information visit sonofsemele.org

 

Ashley Steed, Christina Bryan, Meg Cunningham,Roger K. Weiss, Mate Motzenbacker, Alexander Freer, Joe Shea, Mark Hein, Stacey Jack, Christian Pretice, Melissa R. Randel, Flor San Roman, Eric Trules,

 

Nasty Women’s Revolt

As I drove down, I was saddened for the need of protest shows; the whole audience was somber at the onset, reflecting my general tone. Fortunately our fires were stoked by the passions and fury on stage.

The spirit of dissent is alive and well in the world. Which is a very good thing; I was afraid we’d made so many gains in such short order that we were going soft & complacent. I am glad for the spark start of our vital essence to progress towards equality.

Anti-Inauguration Night: a variety show to benefit Planned Parenthood what better way to christen Eclectic Theatre as the new home of True Focus Theater! The fires of determination were kindled and great billows of anger breathed icy wrath into the flames. Before the end of the first piece the audience was alive and ready for an energetic evening. Sally Sincere doing an ASL strip tease was just the magic spark needed to get us fired up.

This nearly all female variety show, shows a wide breadth of diverse women, each finding unique ways to express their pains, anger, frustrations, fears, etc… The eve before the Women’s March AIN was the perfect primer to get everyone ready to fight for change, fight to keep our rights!

Issaic came on stage, after Sally Sincere had finished teasing the crowd, and delivered a powerful spoken word. There was a repeated line that resonated so strongly it needs to be shared. “I will not go quietly into this inauguration night.”~Issaic

The Eclectic Theatre was standing room only on January 20th, thankfully there was room for me to sit on a step. Just after Women Matter, there was a scene so powerful I had to sit down. I’ve lived through hell, and this show was able to show the audience that that hell still exists for women across the nation. Yet we get up every morning hide our pains and keep going.

If this is the caliber of what we can expect from True Focus Theater at their new home, then the theatre audience in the Los Angeles area is about to be rocked with powerful pieces that can shake you, raise you up, lay you low showing you truth. True Focus Theater lived up to their name, there was more Truth on that stage than we’ve injected from the doublespeak and doublethink miasmic fog which is creeping through society.

Anti-inauguration day was the best medicine to get through such a horrible day. I look forward to seeing what True Focus Theater will do with their new stage.

 

Whimsy & Wine

Miss Cate has chosen a deliciously dark & enchantingly enthralling venue to display the hypnotic dance skills of her talented girls.

Upon entering The Vampire Lounge & tasting room, I was fortunate enough to spy the lovely Miss Cate entertaining guests at the bar, one of her girls, coat cloaked, came up to her and spoke with her. As Miss Cate smiled and laughed I was overtaken with the impression the Vampire Lounge materialized around her, and the lovely ladies of Cabaret le Fey. Such is the tone set by the alchemical concoction catalyzed by the perfect sound accompaniment, picked to enhance the night by Vanessa Cate.

The world needs whimsy & beauty; kicking off 2017 with a David Bowie inspired cabaret is a great way to raise the whimsy to eleven.

Everything about the night blended together into a fine evening out, and a better Thursday night in winter I can’t think than wine and talented women dancing beautifully. I began with an obligatory red wine, Miss Cate having told me I could put my fate in the hands of the sommelier, and proceeded upstairs again on the recommendation of Miss Cate. As the leader of Cabaret le Fey, she knows her venue well. There were box seats pushed up next to the railing giving a balcony view akin to a theatre purpose built for cabaret.

If you want to be closer to the action, the bar is the perfect place, the dancers are as close as life with the stage being a perfectly framed corner, the dancers tantalizing & teasing the passersby through a large pane window. Set in the corner wall from the window is a gorgeous mirror affording a second angle of the dark angels tempting our more interesting thoughts to the surface.

The whole evening as I said was accompanied by music picked purposefully by Miss Cate to drive our emotions forward through the theme of the evening, which mirrored 2016 using David Bowie and the roller coaster of the past year. The dancers drew us visually through the sway of rise and fall, fast and slow. As if the music and dancing weren’t magick enough Miss Cate admitted that she used the darkest sorcery to fog up the window for the first time ever, or at least during a show. She was forced to admit her witchery after I’d commented that the venue seemed to further evolve its enchantments.

I look forward to the next bi-monthly installment of Cabaret le Fey, with rumors of vampires flitting through the Vampire lounge, I hope to position myself across the mirror at the bar. I’ll need to closely see if the dancers gracing the stage have reflections or not.

If you’re looking to do something fun, eclectic and witness something stunningly beautiful, you should consider stopping by Cabaret le Fey, every other week on Thursdays. It’s the perfect week night relaxing entertainment.

 

Cabaret le Fey runs every other Thursday at Vampire Lounge & tasting room from 9p to 12a

For more information please visit:

https://www.facebook.com/cabaretlefey/

and

Cabaret le Fey

and

https://www.vampire.com/vampiretastingroom/

*Warning* Respitory Distress

diehard_sqA wisp of startled breath tickled a grin unto my face moments after curtain, a smile that didn’t go away until I woke for work the following day.

*Warning* *Health Advisory* A Very Die Hard Christmas is the funniest Christmas musical I’ve seen. Multiple times throughout I was silently gasping for breath, unable to stop laughing. I can’t even be coy with the start of this review, simply overt and direct. Go buy your tickets, Link, I’ll wait. Good, now back to the review…

Theatre Unleashed distilled the essence of the Holiday movie/special: concentrated it, then added their biting wit and sarcastic regard for modern social politeness, damn good improve, covered it all in holiday magic and laughter. The entire audience was laughing from start to finish, to the point where I knew several unique laughter styles. Feeling the entire audience laughing along with you, it was impossible not to be moved into feeling magic was real.

The improve and interaction with the audience… if the acting, direction, and lyrics hadn’t been among the best comedy I’ve seen, the immersive pulled in feeling from the fourth wall breaches would have made this show amazing. Sarcastic asides, hinted inside jokes, this feeling of being in the know. The audience wasn’t just watching, they were experiencing, and we were invited to be along for the ride.

Though never directly opposed Robby DeVillex and Josef Knauber were dueling for ownership of the stage. Separate categories though; Josef owned the stage through the strength of his sarcastically dark portrayal of Hans Gruber. Robby was the everyman, five of them to be precise, two of them anthropomorphized puppets. Each character was perfectly delineated, even when bouncing between three characters in one scene. You’re left wondering if Robby did some dark ritual to channel Dead Pool with his improvisation and fourth wall sundering (thanks for the ultra close air kiss darlin’).

Wade F. Wilson, you need to be cast in the eventual reboot, Demand Gregory Crafts be part of it, because a dark comedy take of Die Hard needs to be a thing the world sees.

You have to see A Very Die Hard Christmas, the only thing I could do here is poorly relate the grandeur and joy I felt literally through the night until the following morning and through work even. Every aspect of the show: the wit, songs, satire, improvisation, set use and direction, every single aspect was on point. All building to an ending that felt like Christmas magic was happening on stage.

A Very Die Hard Christmas is up there with memories of watching Die Hard with Pa at Christmas, I felt like he was there with me, and like he would have laughed with me the whole way though.

That’s the Christmas Magic I felt and I’ve been avoiding writing for a week because of how powerful that was, and what I’m going through in my life. I’m sorry for the delay in this review, but thank you, because I’ve felt like my Pa was back with me this last week and I needed that more than any other time.

I know that last paragraph isn’t entirely professional, but this show was powerful and brought Christmas Magic to life to someone who game up on Christmas Magic long ago. The Theatre is powerful, and this time it really got to me…

Beautiful Illusions

thetempestzju_postcardZombie Joe’s starts the audience on their ear’s and whisks them away from there in this Dark Sci-fi take on The Tempest.

Opening upon a starship bridge in distress any one could tell this won’t be an average night of Shakespeare; any regular to Zombie Joe’s knows they’re in for an above average off the, black, wall Shakespeare experience.

Jana Wimer (director) must have found some long forgotten weave of spell in the text; the transition from clear Mediterranean blue to the endless night sky was seamless and beautifully executed. Using her magics, and cast, three separate plots weave in and out, moving you from scene to scene at the right time, building then carrying the audience’s emotions and rapt attention along the way.

The starkly visible, and beautifully executed, change in setting & tone serve to highlight just how good a Shakespeare company ZJU is. It’s easy to lose things in the watching when you are familiar with them, you can’t do that with this version of The Tempest. It’s too good not to watch entirely enthralled, the alien setting, in the hands of Jana’s cast, becomes normalized in that surreal way where the more you change something the more it becomes the same. Shakespeare is infinitely adaptable because he captures an essence of humanity in his works. Jana has shown that she can reflect that essence back through varied prisms and filters. Like so many beautiful illusions, I wonder what she’ll produce next.

thetempestzju_photo-2Speaking of illusions, shine a rainbow on Miss Vanessa Cate and Ferdinand becomes gender bent, deliciously gender bent. The moment Ferdinand is alone on the shores of some alien world, you can tell Miss Cate is enjoying her role entirely. A performer has this energy when they really like a role, and without words, body language alone you can tell this is one of those roles. The whole cast had this palpable energy, a weight upon the senses. It makes it easy to become lost in their spell.

Jonica Patella as Caliban with Stephano played by Jason Britt made me want to see the misadventures of Caliban and Stephano. The longer they are on stage together, the more I wanted to see what was going to happen with them. Jason plays rogues and those who walk the left handed paths as if he’s a villainous rogue by day it seems. The puckish energy Jonica brought, had this gleeful retributive merriment in Caliban’s motives, simply fun to watch.

The show is dotted with these sci-fi pop culture references and allusions, as a nerd, it’s as close to total sci-fi fan service as you can get. Elif Savas as Ariel has my favorite sci-fi reference, which I won’t give away, but it is beautiful to the ear. Elif also rounds out the trio of actresses who simply blew me away scene after scene. Vanessa, Jonica, and Elif’s performances are breathtaking, and powerful. These three ladies impart a physical presence to The Tempest; the stage and house lifted from the globe by their energies.thetempestzju_photo-1

I have been slowly returning to the theatre after being away, and The Tempest was a great night out, I smiled the whole way home thinking of what unfolded on stage. Only Zombie Joe’s can have an ending leaving me silent at first, waiting for other patrons and critics to confirm the different ending. The problem, I liked it so much, and had been led there with perfectly built suspense, I doubted my own memory as to whether or not that was supposed to happen. There was a temporary spanner in my memory works, placed no doubt by Jana using one of Prospero’s tools of illusion…

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The Tempest runs Fri @8:30 & Sun @7pm through Dec. 18th at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in North Hollywood.

For more information please visit http://www.zombiejoes.com

Beautiful Black Chanterelle (Hex is a…)

14344142_1801091163481814_796930542879132812_nOn Lankershim Blvd, in macabre haven Hex (Directed by Vanessa Cate) summons up The Sacred Feminine; in a gravity stripping rite full of such sensual beauty, and grace as to be reminiscent of the ancient workings which must have inspired the spirit of the Babylon Working.

Vanessa leads a power Coven of goddesses, bespelling the audience from the start. Vanessa’s Hex is an intricate weave too, and one I will right now recommend you see more than once if you hope to unravel all of the beautiful layers of this living tapestry.

Though enthralled myself, I’ll try not to spoil the story. More in hopes that I won’t do an injustice to the depth of the overarching threads which weave through Hex.

Hex is a soaring emotional journey of all that is woman, as seen through the lenses of the Wicca, feminism, sexuality, expression, and art of all forms. Hex shows it all, our highs and lows, our sorrows and joys. The journey we travel as the stage becomes all that is real, would not be possible without the immensely talented performances of the entire Coven.

For some time Vanessa has been experimenting with expressing defining the boundaries and whole sum of feminine power and mystique through the power of the stage. Hex pushes this overarching theme in her carrier further than ever. Vanessa has honed a talent for showing her goddesses their inner beauty and strength, and then she shapes this glorious palate on stage painting wonderful and complex emotions.

The entire Coven radiated immense inner power and beauty, which backlit their talents on stage. With each Coven member gracefully moving on stage, emotions mixed and swirled. There is magick at Zombie Joe’s Underground this Samhain season.

With the Coven as the emotional pigments a beautiful black chanterelle of vignettes is presented to the audience. Old Crones can take an argument over a potion into a deep discussion on body and sex shaming, wonderfully blending the old world lexicon with modern issues, puns, quips and burns. The whimsical mixing of modernity into scenes in times long forgotten gives a strong touch stone for the audience to connect with, allowing the Coven to continue pulling the audience along.

Dynamically evoked raw emotional wisdom, over definitive knowledge; that is how you Hex conveys deeper meanings than words ever could. Much like how an artist doesn’t need words to describe the world they show us. While under the enchantment of Hex, the audience flows with the scenes feeling the story. How many different interpretations could one listen from the audience, after a show where a feral coven of werewolves vying for leadership give way into a Sapphic Werewolf Cabaret seduction scene reminiscent of the Paris Coven in Interview with the Vampire.

Hex is full of deep, dark sensual beauty, shown perfectly in their rendition of The Raven. I’ve read Poe since I was three or four. I’ve never seen The Raven so transformed in my eyes before. The power portrayed by the characters… The Raven is one of the scenes I look forward to seeing again the most. I won’t spoil it, you have to see Hex for yourself.

As the show comes to its denouement, the last threads of Hex resolved, you may see that the wheel keeps turning. Though there are many darker elements to Hex, that is true with life. The wheel keeps turning, highs and lows. Hex unites us though. It shows us that through all the ages, women weren’t just there and surviving, we were living, loving, and enjoying life.

Due to the fluid nature of Hex, I was unable to spotlight any single actresses by name, however I would like to highlight a few pieces which stood out largely due to the Coven members. The Raven, was breathtaking as I said above, the Speaker and the Raven have such chemistry. In the werewolf cabaret scene the dancing, the energy, the teasing sensuality… Then, there was a goddess scene, with Hecate and all the goddesses, the power in that scene.

The entire show I felt like my soul was drawn onto the stage with the most talented ensemble I’ve seen in a fluid performance piece. Each and every Coven member showed us their still beating hearts on stage, and did it with grace and power.

Hex (directed by Vanessa Cate) a True Focus Theater & Cabaret le Fey production, shows at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in North Hollywood Tuesday nights at 10pm through October 25th.

For more information please visit http://www.TrueFocusTheater.com

The Coven:

Cheryl Doyle, Caitilin Fowler, Deneen Melody, Marietta Melrose, Kat Nelson-Bergfeld, Alariza Nevarez, Emma Pauly, Sasha Snow Ashley J. Woods, with Vanessa Cate