Andy Shultz (writer/director) has put radio waves to paper, script that is. Lonely at the Top is the perfect distillation of the radio dramas I grew up with. Andy throws in several tongue in cheek, we can’t take ourselves too seriously now moments.
Above all you can tell Andy and Wyn Harris (director) did their homework. Lonely at the Top feels like an honest to goodness radio drama, or at least a send up of the most iconic attributes of the genre. The only thing missing is the periodic static and signal tuning interference. From the start you’re thrown into the setting, WZJU Host (Doug Haverty) pulls the old fashioned microphone plunging us into a scene straight out of the hardboiled detective serials of old. Channeling that old timey announcer cadence and squawk Doug paints a picture of a true serial. What isn’t painted by narration and dialogue is covered by a faux foley artist, our WZJU Host, on stage. Being live Theatre the faux foley artist shoots more for a visual element, than auditory.
Lonely at the Top is a classic detective Serial following Rex Fontana (Adam Neubauer), his secretary Babs Berkowitz (Aling Zhang) and a cast of colorful noir characters. Rex and the assorted players are thrown deep into the dark depths of shady Los Angeles California, where everyone has a story to tell, and every dame with a killer set of gams is just as likely to kill you as the next vice.
Lonely is a classic noir detective serial. An important and thoroughly hated person has been found murdered, and there are more suspects with motive than you can shake an officer’s truncheon at. Speculation and fist cuffs fly as Rex and Police Chief Jordan (Shawn Davis) square off to see who will solve this mystery first. Who will solve the Goldstein murder first, and was it a Mob hit, the Communists, or Aliens from the center of the hollow earth!? How will our bumbling private dick accustomed to succeeding on stubbornness and luck pull this off? With the help of his lovely assistant more than anything else.
Everything about Lonely at the Top makes you feel like you’re listening to a radio drama, from the minimal movement and blocking, to the station breaks and commercials. Yes there are commercials, and they are real too. Period commercials from a bygone era of no regulations are read by announcers between each scene. It’s truly groan worthy hearing these old commercials.
For something like this to come together as well as it does here, everything must be tops. The story has to pull you forward, the pacing set by the director to hook the audience at the right moment, to the acting itself. Everything must flow together. Radio dramas are all about timing, making the audience laugh at the right moments, groan at the next. If the pace is off just a little this won’t work. Everything falls in place with Lonely.
Being that Lonely at the Top is a detective story, and I can’t give away the game, you’ll have to rely on your keen nose and intuition to suss out who the killer/s is. If you have your wits about you, and can see through the 4th wall, you’ll enjoy seeing Rex stumble through the investigation.
There is one difficult thing to deal with while watching Lonely. Which character do you want to have done the deed? Each character is a favorite for their own reasons. Every suspect has a motive, the fun in any detective story is finding those motives out, asking yourself if they are guilty or not. Part of what makes it hard to settle on one suspect; each is portrayed so wrongly, that it’s so right. Was it the rival Director Victor De Lancie (Vincent Miller) and his many secrets, including a frilly pink one? De Lancie certainly is creepy enough, a credit to Miller, to be a killer. There is the oft over worked assistant Mary Spielberg (Casey Ellings), a hard working dame who just wants to Direct movies, and raise her son. Mary and Babs have instant stage chemistry, are they teasing each other or the audience with their double talk. The mob boss is alwayse a good choice for the killer. Don Anthony Rizzotti (David Wyn Harris) is the perfect choice, Hollywood plus a mobster. It’s obvious, or is it too obvious? What does Don Rizzotti know about Goldstein’s death, and what does he know about Roswell while we’re at it? Could it be Mrs. Goldstein (Marilou Rabahi Seaton) herself, that naive wife of a philandering Hollywood Director, or perhapse she teamed up with the sultry Trixie Adams (Margaret Glaccum), Mr. Goldstein’s mistress, or was that stalker.
Oh well, I’m sure Rex will figure out what happened to the Aliens at… I mean who killed Mr. Goldstein.
Pressing myself to pick a few choice adjectives to describe Lonely at the Top; gloriously groan worthy, stitch inducing puns. Lonely at the Top is a grand evening spent with your face in your palm. It’s more than just the corny lines, purposely transparent characters, or even the timing of every line. The entirety of Lonely gels together, forming a complete portrayal of classic Americana.
So grab your Tin Foil, for the radio antenna, your trench coat, and a fedora and tune into WZJU. That’s Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre, same macabre theatre, same unusual programming. With any luck, Rex Fontana will haunt the faux radio waves with some sense serial repetition.
Lonely at the Top (Written by Andy Shultz, Directed by Shultz, and David Wyn Harris) airs, I mean runs Friday nights at 8:30pm through August 28th.
For more information please visit: http://www.zombiejoes.com
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
Hollywood 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.
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.
Inside 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
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
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.
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.
When 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.
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.
Alex 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.
Walters 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.
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.
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