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A Whirlwind Ride

I diedCyanne McClairian is a whirling dervish of energy and talent in I Died… I Came Back… Whatever. I Died… is Cyanne’s story, a story of how it sometimes takes dying to learn what’s worth living for.

Everyone should have Sir Laurence Olivier emcee their near death experience, call up the ghosts of loved ones to teach us lessons we were too stubborn to learn while alive, or have long forgot. I won’t use the words I have here to talk about these lessons; they are in part Cyanne’s and in part yours. That is the beauty of I Died… it’s not just an evening’s entertainment, you can actually put yourself in Cyanne’s shoes, and learn from her story. It is after all her story, her real story; she did die on the operating table.

Avoiding the lessons, so you can experience them for yourself, and because I can’t do them justice in so few words; what I can speak to is the quality of Cyanne’s performance. It is an amazing performance.

As you enter the theatre Cyanne lies supine on an operating table, there she lies motionless until the show commences. How she stays so still while people find their seats, share greetings exchange hugs is remarkable. It’s like she is dead, only the start of the show can breathe life into her.

As the show starts you hear a recording of the doctors and nurses trying to save her as the “beep beep beep” of her vitals fades. She awakes to find she is no longer in pain, though a bit disoriented, in a wing of the hospital she didn’t know existed. Speaking of wings, were those bats that just flew by. It’s here I should mention that this is a one woman show, in a black box theatre. Aside from a hospital bed, and a few boxes there are no props. The images you see are painted by Cyanne; by her words, and her gestures. She can paint an amazing picture.

You never know what you’ll get with a one person show. Will it be a monologue, a soliloquy, will there be a few characters. Cyanne is an ensemble unto her own, she moves from character to character; from friends, family, doctors, to Sir Laurence Olivier, and others. Each character has it’s own transition, transformation, and affect. Perhapse none more entertaining and regal than Sir Laurence Olivier, as it should be one would think.

To me theatre is best when the world around is suspended, and reality becomes only what is on stage. I Died… I Came Back… Whatever did just this. It feels as if you’re traveling along with Cyanne as she revisits her hardships, and her joys, taking small lessons from each scene. These lessons slowly build until there is a final grand lesson; a lesson that will touch your heart, or Cyanne’s heart. After all she was having heart surgery.

As the story progresses Cyanne portrays herself as bold, progressing to unsure, and eventually hopeful for the future. It’s an overarching journey, the journey of a lifetime almost. A life’s journey in a compressed form. Which is what a near death experience is supposed to be; your life compressed.

If you’re looking for a good laugh, and possibly a potent, poignant, and salient story I Died… I Came Back… Whatever is the Fringe show for you. Hopefully it’ll be extended through the best of Fringe in July, and maybe more.

I Died… I Came Back… Whatever (Written by Cyanne McClairian Directed Jessica Lynn Johnson) by runs through Hollywood Fringe. For more information please visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2123

Six or Rather Nine Degrees of Bacon

SA1Hollywood Fringe brings such pleasures as Sleeping Around. How many people have you slept with, and who have they slept with? This is addressed in a comical light, to great effect, in Sleeping Around.

The story follows nine people each at two moments in their lives, with one partner, then another. What the characters are blissfully unaware, and the audience joyously aware is that every character is connected by the cords of humanity, and sexuality.

The first scene opens with a nervous couple awkwardly dancing around with the idea of sleeping together. We quickly find out they aren’t a couple, rather they met on craigslist. The go through all the awkward motions of a pair who has yet to sleep together, finally settling on a way in which they can engage in some fun.SA4

As the next scene opens, the premise takes shape. The man from the first scene is attending dinner with yet another beautiful woman. This woman his wife, is he the same character, has he been unfaithful? Yes, and no. They are married, and he is indeed the same character from the previous scene. As the scene picks up speed the wife confronts her husband as to what he had been up to the previous night. After some cajoling, he concedes that he was with another woman. Where other wives would be upset, she seems eager to learn the details. It is here we learn this trist occurred with not only her approval, but her insistence. She is dying of cancer, and needs her husband to know he can move on after she is gone.

The story progresses in such manner throughout the night. Each new partner in turn takes another partner. In each scene we are given a half story, a half reason why these events transpire. Taken in whole, through all ten stories, the epic that is humanity is seen. Through wit and humour the makeup of our common existence takes shape on stage. Joys, anxiety, humour, discomfort, pleasure, sorrow, and tragedy, all are ties that bind us as one. All of these themes, and more are artfully presented on stage.

As much as the ensemble adds their talent to the story, so does the stage and set. Sleeping Around takes place on a stage stripped bare of most dressing. What is used is carefully placed to engage the mind, while not distracting from the story, and cast. In a way the minimal dressing serves to mirror the undercurrents of the story. We are only afforded a small glimpse into each of the lives presented; even then we are only shown half of each story at a time. The use of the set pieces to convey this undercurrent is not only well thought out, but executed as subtly as said undercurrent.

On stage we see a spouse grieving a dying love, a virgin coming into his own, a man coming to terms with his sexuality, and a fiancé grieving the end of her engagement, as well as much more. Each of these stories is handled with grace and care, and the needed humour given the difficulty of stories dealing with a most sensitive nature of the human condition. That sensitive nature happens to be one of our strongest bonds, our sexuality. We are born through the sensuous acts, and we connect to our closest life companions through it as well.

Sleeping Around shows us even moreso the strength of these bonds. We are connected to people we have never even met. Humanity is connecting throughout everything we do, day in and day out, and at night in our beds.

If you’re looking for a night of laughter, a touch of introspection into the nature of humanity, and our connections with it; Sleeping Around is for you. With any luck it will receive an extension into July after Hollywood Fringe is over.

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Sleeping Around (written by Cesar Abella, Directed by Wendy Gough Soroka) runs as part of Hollywood Fringe. Please visit http://hff15.org/2444 or www.theatreunleashed.org

Are Dreams Reality?

inside the mind of meInside The Mind of Me (written and directed by Wade F. Wilson) is an existential journey though the mind of Me (Michael Marcel). Our journey takes place inside Me’s mind, you see Me is in a coma. Throughout Me’s journey we revisit his recent and distant past.

What happens when the only landscape one can traverse, day in and day out, is their own mind? When left only to the devices of our memories, do we become the plaything of our inner demons, and better angels? What of our friends, and family; what happens to them?

Me has been in a coma long enough for his ex Jessica (Brooke Maroon) and best friend Chris (Eric Anthony) to move on. Together that is; move on, and stop visiting as often. Jessica and Chris are visiting Me in the hospital. The scene, and empty bed, which represents the emptiness of Me’s body. His mind and spirit are elsewhere, trapped inside some purgatory.

While Jessica and Chris visit the empty shell that is Me, we are afforded the opportunity to view inside Me’s head. We witness his journey of self discovery, and exploration. See his past ghosts, witness his tormentors, chief among them Circus (Graydon Schlichter). Circus is a demon, with a grudge against Me, and Angel (Kire Horton). Angel and Circus appear to have a dark past, one which drives Angel away when Me needs her most.

When Angel leaves, we are afforded a life lesson, sometimes we must face our demons alone. Only after we have stood up to them will our better angels, our friends are able to stand beside us. Inside the Mind of Me is a wild ride, with the power to stir deep emotions in anyone who has ever experienced trauma.

While exploring Me’s mind we are given glimpses of his life, starting with his traumas. These traumas, a difficult childhood, witnessing his grandfather having a heart attack, an abusive father, a mentally broken mother. Through the gauntlet of trauma, Me emerges on the other side, visiting happy memories. It requires conscious effort, even for the unconscious, to choose to focus on the joys in our life. Yes there is sorrow, and it shapes us, but our joys define us in the end. That is the lesson Me learns through his journey.

Wade Wilson used the venue perfectly. A black box theatre in the heart of Fringe allows a director and audience so much freedom. As much freedom as the mental landscape of a coma patient. Using dialogue, and the gestures of the actors, a picture of a set is painted before the audience. You see a world, both hazy, nebulous, yet clear. This is an amazing medium considering the theme, being stuck in one’s own head. As Me learns he can shape his world, so to we learn we can shape our world.

The entire cast does an amazing job, and I wish I could give a nod to each, Death’s (Erin Braswell) ever present visage, both in the real world, and Me’s mind. Erin adds grace and beauty to Death, which makes her inevitability a bit more palpable. We are of course witness to a full cast of characters who only exist as shadows of memories, or demons in Me’s head. For Jessica, and Chris who appear both in memory, and real life, we see a range of physical acting. When Me confronts mental projections of Jessica, and Chris, they take on a dower tone. This is Me projecting what he thinks they will say, not their actual words. They show the difference through their movements, slower, unsure. It’s a nice delineation between reality, and the dreamscape.

If you want a surreal experience, one that will make you rethink how you view negative and positive memories. Inside the Mind of Me is the Fringe show for you.

Inside the Mind of Me (written and directed by Wade F. Wilson) runs during the 2015 Hollywood Fringe season. For more information and tickets please visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2097

Dashed on the rocks of life

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I had the pleasure of kicking of the 2015 Hollywood Fringe season with 5 Sirens Beware of Rocks, a refreshing series of vignettes. As the title suggests Sirens are involved, and what are sirens if not beautiful, powerful, independent women.

5 Sirens is a collection of five independent stories, all with a central theme, powerful women. Feminine strength comes in many forms, strength through vulnerability, kindness and compassion, nervousness. Women posses the ability to turn various aspects into strengths, even at their weakest hour, women are at their strongest.

As I said there are five vignettes, each of which shows the Sirens through the lens of different strengths. In Spock at Bat, we see a strong sports fan of a Siren, Lacey (Jenny Curtis). She is independent, and a huge baseball fan. Enter Spock, or rather a geek of a man, Alex (Robert Seeley). Both Alex and Lacey have a nervous chemistry in their flirtations. It’s clear they like each other, yet they are so different, they don’t know how to proceed. In the end it’s Lacey who guides Alex into acting. She does this in the gentlest of ways, so he thinks it’s his idea. That is one of the strengths women have, they can guide others to have the courage to act, in the end thinking they did it all themselves.

Don’t Panic, shows the strength inherent between two women helping each other. In this case the strength shared by two sisters. Paige (Julianna Robinson) is having a panic attack, and needs the help of her sister to calm down. Through the course of the story Paisley (Kara Ludke) absorbs her sister’s panic, and has an attack of her own. Through this we see that women can absorb the hardship of others. Better still, when Paige calms Paisley down, we see the inherent strength a woman finds when she helps another. Paige manages to find her center, her calm by helping calm Paisley down. We see that women grow stronger still, the more they are there for those they care about.

Being Fringe, and since 5 Sirens is a collection of short stories, I don’t want to give away anymore of the details of the remaining three stories. 5 Sirens is something you have to experience for yourself. I will touch on the themes they cover, in hopes to temp you to see this powerful example of the strength of womanhood.

We see the strength a woman has when she surrender her control to one she cares for. There is the strength of not only the survivor, but the fierce mother protecting her child. It’s challenging enough to make it through your days saving your spoons. At the end of her rope, holding no more spoons, we see how women have a deeper reserve they know nothing about until they need it, until their child is hurting. Than a fierce lioness regains a voice she has long lost. Lastly we see the strength of a woman who has to give up something she knows she wants badly. It’s hard giving up what we want, even if it’s for the better. It’s a difficult decision all women must make at one time or another, even if they are from another planet.

5 Sirens Beware of Rocks, is a must see this Hollywood Fringe season. The talented female playwrights, and director have dug deep to show that even at their most vulnerable women are strong creatures. It’s clear that they have each drawn experiences in their lives to, shared with us vulnerable moments. Moments that can teach us to all be stronger.

5 Sirens Beware of Rocks (Directed by Laura Steinroeder) runs during Hollywood Fringe. Please visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2125 for tickets and more information

All Photos Credit: John M. Wetzork

Fashion Marches On

OTHELLO@ZJU_PostcardBestUnexpected Unbridled Laughter is truly cathartic. Catharsis was gifted to me recently at Zombie Joe’s Undergound Theatre.

Like all of Shakespeare’s works, as long as the central story remains, substitutions can be made. Settings changed, themes added to run parallel to the main story, characters motives altered. Sometimes these alterations miss, other times they fit like well designed fashion. Or haute couture, speaking of haute couture, that is one of the spins place on this version of Othello.

Othello leads his army on the runways of Pairs and Milan; where paparazzi are as dangerous as missed stitches. This twist alone would be enough to make Othello a night full of laughter; it’s not, alone that is. There are a few more, Othello is portrayed by the talented Vanessa Cate. The role isn’t gender swapped, it doesn’t need to be. Vanessa plays the part of a strong and stern Othello as well as any other actor or actress. This is also a musical after a fashion. Josh T Ryan (adapation and direction) fills the scenes with songs that echo the moods he is painting with. His song choices add depth, clarity, and laughter to his interpretation of The Bard.OTHELLO@ZJU_VincentCusimano_VanessaCate_KristenBenjamin

Josh also attempted and succeeded in making the audience uncomfortable. Profoundly uncomfortable for many in attendance. I have seen many shows at ZJU, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in an audience more uncomfortable at times than this. This uncomfortable atmosphere is a testament to Josh’s vision, considering ZJU needs buy blood at bulk discount rates. There wasn’t even a drop of blood in Othello, red rags were used to simulate gushing blood.

It might say something about me that I thoroughly enjoyed the discomfort of the guy sitting next to me. He kept looking back to one scene and shaking his head like “it’s still going on”. I enjoyed seeing his reaction, as well as the rest of the audience’s, on a visceral level.

There are two more twists to this tale. This version of Othello is an LBGT and BDSM version. Through the lens of both worlds Josh projects such dark humour your sides will hurt.

Each character added something unique and tangible to the story, but Honest Iago (Vincent Cusimano) stole the show. I don’t want to give away too much of his performance, but it was powerful, as well as the source of much discomfort from the audience. I’ll never look at Alan Cumming the same again.

OTHELLO@ZJU_VincentCusimano_VanessaCateWhen you add so many emotionally, physically charged twists to a story the actors must pull from deep within to portray their characters. I’ve seen many of these actors on stage before, and I’ve never seen them transform as much as they did in Othello. They walk the razor’s edge between serious and funny; sexy, sensuous and naive. This naiveté is needed of course for Iago to play them all like puppets. Their stronger traits are there for us to relate to. Their loyalty, their courage, their strength, all things one wouldn’t think open them to manipulation. This is of course how Iago worms his way into their collective trust.

As I said many of the jokes are dark, like so much black silk to wrap ourselves in. The sensuous jokes which cozy up to us are punctuated by the plunge of those that break the fourth wall. The timing of the fourth wall breaks are perfect. Just as you are lulled into the story, you’re smacked upside the head. Never relax around Iago, that’s your undoing.

I’m purposely being vague as to as much of the goings on in this version. I think it’s something everyone should experience for themselves raw and unfiltered as I did on opening night. I can say, picture the most on the nose aspects of the worlds of Fashion, LGBT, and BDSM, and you have an idea. Josh weaves these elements together in a way that makes these stereotypes all the more sharp, and intelligent. They aren’t the blunted jokes one finds in memes and political rags. They are wit, pure and distilled.

I’ve spoken much of Iago, but in truth there would be no Iago without an Othello. Vanessa made Othello hers, body and soul. Whenever she appears on stage I couldn’t help but smile. Her portrayal more honest than Iago pretends to be. Towards the end, when her musical number won’t end, at a certain point, it’s as if the audience doesn’t want it to end either. It’s as if the role were meant for her, and she for it. Speaking of things meant for Vanessa, this is a runway model take on Othello. There would be no need for a runway without fashions custome fit to the characters. So much Haute Couture designed by the wonderful Jeri Batzdorff. Vanessa had to go through at least seven or eight outfit changes thought out this piece. Each outfit more amazing than the last.

Othello could neither exist without his army, his trusted companions. The world loves Othello, and he it. The retinue with which Othello surrounds himself seems perfectly cast. From Hannah Mosqueda making Roderigo seem fierce, yet adorable and endearing. Quinn Knox made Cassio seem strong, yet confused, and Kirsten Benjamin made Desdemona a loyal and loving companion to Ohtello, a lover entirely cloaked in Othello’s universe, like so much haute couture. Anna Gion comes close to being able to control Iago as his wife Emilia. The introduction of Sebastian Munoz as a paparazzi serves as an anchor for the audience. Present almost through the entirety of the show, he adds both mirth, and a sense of intrusiveness into the lives unfolding on stage. It’s a sharp and humorous decision that lets you know the fourth wall will come down from time to time.

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If you’re looking to spend the night laughing, as well as your drive home, this version of Othello is right for you.

Othello (Written by Shakespeare, Adapted/ Directed by Josh T. Ryan) runs Fidays and Saturdays at 8:30pm thorugh June 27th at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre.

For more information please visit www.zombiejoes.com

Photo Credit: Josh T. Ryan.

Don’t forget to check out Zombie Joe’s Underground Fringe. I’ve heard that Don Juan has had a cast alteration, and a few tweaks that I’m dying to see.

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Up is down, Down is up

Don Juan 8Alex Walters has birthed a comedy with Don Juan (Written Moliere Directed by Alex Walters). Don Juan at Zombie Joe’s had a short run, but it was a great run. If there is ever a revival, you must go see.

Alex approaches Don Juan as comedy, a send up of telenovelas, complete with “oh no” moments, and cheesy jokes. Sganarelle (Dorian Serna) serves two masters, the audience, and Don Juan. He acts as Don Juan’s head servant, and also the quasi narrator. He connects the audience to the story.

Alex balances comedy with the driven narrative of what is at its core an anti libertine morality play. Don Juan follows the titular character, a free spirit. Don Juan (Robert Walters) is more than a hedonist who seeks decadence and self pleasure. He is about the chase, the power he has when he extracts pleasure from the use of others. This is what places notable libertines like De Sade in a category of their own. Keeping the comedy running in such a serious morality story line is all about timing. Alex succeeded quite well. The audience was laughing in unison, and were still and quite together as well.

Don Juan 5Walters pulls off such an ineffable affect. It’s as if he embodied the totality of what Don Juan is. That je ne sais quoi, a comme ci comme ça air that nothing can touch. The consequences of life never quite land on his shoulders. Even Walters’ laughter is light and airy. Taking what would be an unbearably light life (for most of us), and boiling it down to something tangible takes control over your character.

Throughout the show an ensemble of characters moves about Don Juan’s life, Sganarelle is the one constant in his life. A begrudging constant at that, for he fears the judgments of the afterlife, and fears his master’s actions will cost him a job. Don Juan cares not for the judgments of the afterlife, or this one for that matter. Much to the consternation of Sganarelle, and a few others.

Serna does a great job balancing his duties to the narrative and to Don Juan. Serna takes time for an aside, pausing the story to fill us in on his torment. He is our connection, his frustration our. How could Don Juan float so carelessly through life, while everyone around him pays the price.

The story follows Don Juan on his most recent adventure. Seemingly having just gained conquest over God himself, pulling one of his brides from her convent, he grows bored. He must strike out anew. On this adventure we are won over by Don Juan’s charm, but see the cost of his libertine lifestyle. At first it appears only that those around him suffer, families ruined, creditors left unpaid, Sganarelle suffering palpitations on his recent actions.Don Juan 3

Throughout the story the cast is filled out with a talented ensemble each taking on at least two characters, or different personas of the same character. Moving back and forth between the looks and mannerisms of each character makes the comedic timing of the entrances all the more impressive.

The asides, and tropes used to deliver the comedic lines are as funny as the jokes themselves. The all too familiar format of the telenovella seems a perfect delivery system for this rendition of Don Juan. The set ups are familiar, adding a layer of comfort and nostalgia to the laughter. The familiar allows the audience to connect to each other through their laughter, shaken heads and face palms. It’s all so obvious to the audience, but to Don Juan, Sganarelle and the other characters, it is simply their lives.

This familiarity can often be a seam the audience trips over on the journey; it is seamless in this instance thanks to the talented skills of the ensemble. They make it easy for the world to melt away, and for us to believe that their reality on stage is the totality of existence.

Don Juan is a fine faire of laughter to spend the evening partaking in.

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Don Juan ran through May 24th at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre.

For more information on the surreal, macabre, existential, and downright funny please visit: http://www.zombiejoes.com

All Photo Credit: Adam Neubauer

Blood, Bones, Sinew, and Heart

MACBETH_at_ZJU_Theatre_870-70The Scottish Play returns to Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre! Denise Devin (adaptation and direction) once again shows she knows how to distil The Bard into a one hour performance.

Everyone knows the story, so I’ll get to the meat, and blood of this review. The blood and sinew of the story is Amir Khalighi’s Macbeth. All connections run through him, either directly by his blood and actions, or connections to those connected to him like so much sinew. His mastery of diction is spot on. He is able to dance around every complex line as if it were nothing. You feel his madness, his anger, his paranoia. Amir alwasye projects a strong presence on stage, never more than when he is reciting Shakespeare though. He brings such vitality into his characters, you become fully engrossed in the reality that slowly overwrites your own.

If Amir provides the blood and sinew Melissa Kite as Lady Macbeth provides the heart of this performance. I won’t lie; Lady Macbeth has never been a sympathetic character for me. She is a strong woman, who knows what she wants and goes after it. She brings about her own madness and sorrow though. It’s her greed and ambition that drive her mad, moreso than her actions. This time around Melissa sells the pain and suffering, the fractured mind her nervous ticks. She brought out sympathy for a character I never cared for. I’d long admired the character, but considered her fall a just one. Now, thanks to Melissa, I felt sorry for her.

Amir and Melissa provided the Heart, blood and connections of this performance of Macbeth. The rest of the ensemble provided the bones, the framework. Without their strength, and versatility, nothing could be built upon. Mark Hein moving from killed, to killer, to concerned physician. Moving from role to role, taking care that each has their own center of gravity. Duncan projects his confidence and love of countryman from his chest, and throat, as a Porter and killer he is slouched, furtive, and mysterious. His coconspirators know now where he comes from.

Jason Britt as Macduff, a man driven mad by the loss of his wife and child; his grief, palpable, if there were rafters at ZJU his voice would have shaken them. Both Amir and Jason had the difficult task of shouting their lines through faces much contorted by emotion. Both pulled this of wonderfully. You can not only make out each complex line, you feel them as you witness their madness and grief respectively.

Each member of the cast added something. Jonica Patella as Ross, adding that nervous element a minor character sworn to others has. Ross delivers pivotal information to others several times during the story, and must be aware of his surroundings. Deliver the wrong information, in the wrong fashion and he will pay for it, though he is just the messenger.

The Witches played by Arielle Davidsohn, Emily Cunningham, and Angela Robitaille were quite a sight. At first formless in the dark, then clad in Woad paint and just enough coverings to let you know these aren’t old hags, but proper, powerful, beautiful Witches. I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of their attentions, accept I would, anyone would want such a fate.

Every member of this performance stands out for more than one reason, even those I failed to mention here. You’re sure to find several somethings to catch your attention in this run of Macbeth.

Shakespeare is hard to pull off, harder still to compress into less than half its running time. Denise is proving again and again this is just one of her wheelhouses. She balances the story, with the characters, the timing and action on stage. I’d venture to say, if you aren’t familiar with Shakespeare, anything adapted by Denise at ZJU is the place to start. Cut your teeth on a trimmed down version, one that still has all the blood, bone, heart and sinew.

Macbeth (by William Shakespeare, Driected and Adapted by Denise Devin) Runs Fridays at 8:30pm Sundays 7pm through May 31st at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in North Hollywood.

Visit; www.zombiejoes.com for more information

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