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Twisting Shakespearean Songplay

TwelfthNight@ZJU_PostcardBestTwisting Shakespearean wordplay into witty songplay Denise Devin alwayse finds fun ways to pull Shakespeare apart and build them back up into her unique, perpetual, motion oriented fast paced theatre. I think it’s alwayse a wild ride, but the audience must agree, from go they were clapping and swaying along. Right here is where I regret the lack of emoticons in proper writing, I’m grinning writing this up, remembering Miss Devin’s perfect Twelfth Night adaptation. Screw it J J J

Denise enthralls the audience from the start, keeping us on our toes, ever moving, both physically and through those ephemeral sensations which make theatre worth wyld. Ever moving and ever building Denise use strong actors to push the momentum alwayse forward. Each piece of the ensemble fits together, parts of the whole who’d certainly leave holes had they not been involved in this adaptation of Twelfth Night.

Sir Toby Belch stands out Roger K. Weiss lifting and driving the mood of every scene he graces, a levity which maintains after he’s left the stage. A consummate touchstone of energy Roger was the base level for the whole performance. Keeping the energy and pace moving allowed the contrast for those scenes which need be slower, powerful in a different vein. This can be difficult in a show that’s alwayse moving forward at speed, a bar with which to clear a jovial character and actor keeping the pace in the faster scenes gives that needed differences while maintaining the quickness Denise set forth to drive her version.

With a horn of amalthea for an ensemble Let’s see if I can hit a few cunningly turned adjectives here for a much deserved cast…

TwelfthNight@ZJU_PIC-4Feste (Kelsey Arnold) is an odd mix of character and background current, ever the puckish trickster Kelsey flows from active role to head tilting faux pantomiming. Adding life to what would be ribbon covered darkness of the black box theatre, Feste comes alive as both a character and component in Denise’s ever changing, magical motion of emotion. Zoe Canner gives a fierce hunger to Olivia, a stalking powerful quality to her grace and dignity. Olivia’s powerful cunning demeanor is needed to keep the overly rowdy and affectionate Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Zack Zoda) at bay. A tough measure as Sir Toby keeps goading him along in the most humorous ways, Sir Andrew expanding the bad ideas to terrible heights. J

Roger K. Weiss’ cut ins as Sir Toby Belch are so perfectly timed they serve as a piton, an anchor for Denise to swing the motion in any direction she chooses, including roundabout to the same way and out stage left. If Roger was a damn good anchor, Nicole A. Craig as Maria subtly, then powerfully, stole the show with a crescendoing energy that swept the audience away as much as the amazing musicals weaved into the story.

Kerry Kaz Kerry KazMalvolio gay as a maypole and I love him so. He’s presence on stage is so flamboyant it makes you clench your teeth to keep from shouting your joy at his interpretation of Mavlolio. Every scene he’s in has this tension, you’re forced on the edge of your breath waiting for Maria’s crash which finally comes and it is grand.

TwelfthNight@ZJU_PIC-2Noble Duke Orsino (Nick Abrell) plays his part as the unknowing seducer and seduced so smoothly you’re left so damn happy when his eyes are open to Viola (Branda Lock) the beautiful smart talented Branda playing the part of Viola like a piece of classical music sweet and strong building to rapture when her identity uncovered, reunion and matrimony joy all around.

Antonio and Sebastian (Carlos Chavez and Tomas Dakan) have a swashbuckling charmingly swarthy bromance going on. The chemistry Carlos and Tomas have on stage, I want to see them in something else action leaning, twisted and fun.

Denise alwasye transforms Shakespeare into the most fascinating and enjoyable rides. It helps that the folks at ZJU not only are damn talented, but they have fun with what they do. After all it’s called a Play, the audience and the cast feed and build on this fun energy, when it’s present it’s palpable. Denise alwayse brings that weight of emotion and experience to her adaptations of Shakespeare, and I’m so lucky I get to review her works.

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Twelth Night (directed and adapted by Denise Devin, Produced by Zombie Joe) ran the end of April through May 14th at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group in North Hollywood.

For information on more great shows visit www.zombiejoes.com and you should go there, see whatever they have J

All Photos credit: Denise Devin; Postcard by David MacDowell Blue

Ascerbicly Barbed Roses

ARTIFICIAL_FLOWERS_Wed_555Lie back on the couch and tell him your darkest truth… and he’ll still bite you. Phelix (Jason Britt) isn’t a therapist, not with the way he toys with Maeve (Emily Charouhas) using his jovially ascerbic wit and remorseless sociopathic jabs. Damn if Phelix doesn’t make Artifical Flowers feel like a good session of therapy, until it’s not good for you… or is it.

A thrilling ride from its slow sensual beginning to an emotional thunk, “damn”, the denouement hammering home with weight felt pressing upon the air itself.ArtificialFlowers@ZJU_PHOTO-2

Carefully crafted dialogue sets you at ease drawing you in alongside Maeve, until the playful wit turns sharp and cuts at you. Artificial Flowers feels like every bad relationship you’ve (I’ve) ever had; Phelix has enough redeeming traits to keep Maeve coming back, Artificial Flowers keeps pulling you in deeper and deeper. Then it all turns pear shaped, Phelix hurts Maeve in word or deed, Artificial Flowers punctures and scratches at you with powerful emotions and painful resonance echoing forth from Emily’s portrayal of Maeve. The whole structure of Artificial Flowers is set up like the relationship it portrays; there is an ebb and flow to the emotional current. You’re set at ease then taken high or low, back to a faux neutral before you can catch your breath you’re processing the next witty line, the next emotional swing from powerful portrayals of deeply real characters.

ArtificialFlowers@ZJU_PHOTO-1I said above that Artificial Flowers feels like a good session of therapy, and that the emotional structure is similar to an abusive relationship. There is a duality to that, and the good comes from the direction of the ebb and flow. Whatever conclusions you may draw from artificial flowers, you can draw because you were led to them organically. The give and take of Artificial Flowers while having its highs and lows emotionally, cognitively AF drew you ever closer to your personal conclusion. The evidence was presented and you were allowed to sway back and forth seeing more and more with each cycle, each turn of the wheel. I say the conclusions are personal, because theatre is complex and personal; more so Artificial Flowers is, complex and personal, an obsidian black mirror ringed in thorny vines held to the hearts of every fucked up, and not so fucked up, member of the audience.

Ragged, exhausted, introspective, you’re left feeling after Artificial Flowers. Not simply a any descriptive flowery adjectives I can pull from the aether, Artificial Flowers simply leaves you feeling, it’s up to you what those feelings are.

 

Artificial Flowers (Written & Directed by Emily Charouhas w/ Brandon Slezak co-directing) ran at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in North Hollywood.

For more information on future productions from ZJU visit www.zombiejoes.com

All Photos: Zombie Joe’s Underground

Tomorrow through the shadows

Sebastian Muñoz has curated the dreams & nightmares of tomorrow into a thrilling rollercoaster of delight.  The future is a place for hope, and a place where darkness can manifest; each piece builds upon the next, dark lows flowing into crescendo highs, alwayse a razors edge.

Kicking off with more than a touch of darkness Chris Campbell (director) uses the brilliantly transformative Jahel Corban. Jahel alwayse seems able to convey a myriad of emotions, becoming what each piece needs, reflecting powerful emotions through simply gestures & a bold presence. Playing against the hard edged emotions & chemistry with Sahsa Snow; you’re drawn in you’ll find the point of no return, too late.

Cutting wit, biting dialogue; Chris Campbell takes an approximately ten minuet piece and expands it beyond, building a greater world, a world of tomorrow’s what ifs. Sebastian Muñoz a tired man looking to do the right thing and find the way out, that way out lies through a meandering maze of poste & reposte, strong dialogue. Hubris & Heroism is the piece I most wanted to see expanded beyond the small taste of Chris’ writing.

Turning darker than brothers fighting over who controls father’s company Jennifer Novak Chun spirals down a thorny path cutting at your heart strings. As Home For Dinner came to a close a sigh escaped my body yearning to comfort this poor imaginary woman. Just as my breath escapes me, we pull into an odd direction giving an interesting Stepford exploration before diving into the darkest peace with Rip and Vanna Winkle.

Gut wrenching as the story progresses and the darkness comes to the foreground of Rip’s (Benjamin Fuller) understanding. Poor bastard…

Tales From Tomorrow is simply brilliant. I can’t wait to see future presentations, see how the show develops and grows into something singular. The soil is rich over at Force of Nature Productions; Sebastian Muñoz coaxes creativity in subtle & dynamic ways, building a community of supportive artists telling interesting stories.

 

Tales from Tomorrow is showing at the Eclectic Company Theatre Sundays at 7:00pm in North Hollywood.

For more information visit: www.fonproductions.com

Coming home to hell

churchdiscipline_zju_postcardWalking in five minutes late I thought I’d messed up and stumbled into a revival meeting; five minutes later I was wondering when the snakes were going to come out, I couldn’t wait! That’s Pastor Luke (Brandon Slexak) for you, someone in his congregation might say about how he gets the parishioners going, up on their toes, tithing their spit… They didn’t teach you that at Sunday school? Shame.

Once again Zombie Joe’s Underground pushes an experiment off in interesting immersive directions. You feel like you’re in a church; at least I did, it’s why I acted out, and was chided a few times, Abigail (Zenobia Tucker) giving me the stink eye, for my sinful ways. I’m smiling as I write this because it really did feel like ticking off that busy body who’d shush you when you just wanted the extra credit for showing up in church presentably. That’s how immersive Church Discipline is, I felt like I was back at church. I’m still not sure if I should lodge a complaint or compliment with the ZJU management over such an experience… In all seriousness Brandon did a great job surrounding and pulling the audience into his odd congregation.

I’m not one for church going, but I’d attend services at ZJU if only to see the other non members squirm a bit. Church Discipline isn’t just in your face, at times it’s in your pew with you, unsettlingly close at times. Pushing past that ick barrier I took up the collection goblet, as did many of the other guests at ZJU that eve. That’s a powerful spell convincing nearly an entire audience to at least hold a goblet of spit, if not donate themselves. ZJU is like that though; even folks attending a show for the first time are swept up into the atmosphere. It’s alwayse an experience when you attend a performance at ZJU, there is a vitality in the energy coming off the performers gracing the stage at ZJU; sit those performers next to the audience & bring the stage up into the personal zones of the attendees. Perfect for keeping an audience on edge, for good & ill.

For the first time I can say I was sad to miss the start of church and pre sermon socializing, apparently all the good boys and girls who showed up on time were able to confess a recent sin upon small pieces of paper. A few of sins were read aloud by Pastor Luke (Brandon); looking round wondering what would happen next, I noticed several heads on swivel. Again, Brandon recreates that slightly oppressive in everyone’s business atmosphere, among an audience of strangers no less. Asking for someone to come forward, assuring none would judge, the sinner stepped forward. ZJU weaves it’s magic here, and Lola (Emily Charouhas) spins an audience members sin into her own. A dalliance with two men in a week becomes something far darker, and fully excusable it seems. In a head tilting way the odd congregation takes a weirder turn; which of course leads to the Devil, a Prophetess, a cross dresser and perhaps angels. Like I said, it’s an odd congregation, and one I’d visit again.

I will of course, another guise, story line, universe Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre might not be an actual congregation, but it’s good theatre, and that’s good for the soul.

 

Church Dicipline ran from Feb 12 – April 9th at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in North Hollywood.

Visit www.zombiejoes.com for more information of future shows.

Blazing Pinpoints

URBAN_DEATH_732-42_2017Blazing pinpoints of uniqueness lighting up urban sprawl, Urban Death has taken a turn down another dark alley vastly different, a comfortingly familiar like jacket (straight), from previous iterations!

Entering into a packed house, the usher finding only two seats remaining, I squeased in between two persons unknown, ready to hold my breath at any moment. One needs be prepared when they attend Urban Death, or they could find themselves jumping and screaming unexpectedly. You’ll still jump, but those mental placebos: clenched fists, stayed breath, grandmother’s scarf, eyes fixed open against the incomprehensible blackness knowing absolutely knowing there is something there. Or there isn’t the darkness is as empty as the magic in all our defenses. Still, the better to be prepared when walking into Zombie Joe’s Undergound, lest the darkness walks off with you.

Exhale, release, safety for now, only a mimed woman, yet she’s awfully close to that curtain; anxieties dancing like the muses already. The show hasn’t even started yet, but this and more is mirrored across the faces and body language of the audience; darkness, applause, tensions building again.

A siren rends the darkness open before lighting effects reveal nothing, but there’s never nothing for long. The slow build of a scene becoming an ever flowing overpowering weighted force, breaking suddenly to quicker scenes giving the audience a chance to breathe. Urban Death has constructed an emotional roller coaster examining the many ways beings, souls, minds, bodies et al. can die, or gain pleasure and pain from the destructive arts of life.

A change of pace from many of the previous Urban Death’s I’ve reviewed, there were fewer jump scares and blood splatter; in their place were twists and turns keeping the audience’s perceptions and thoughts on their toes. Just as scary, just as thought provoking, with that added pleasurable mental exhaustion from cycling through multiple unique points of emotional light. This UD feels like a drive down some of the more tangential allies of the metropolitan emotional landscape. That couple is simply having sex, look closer, turn down that side alley (was that Fabio, holding a corpse weeping?) and see it from a different angle and it’s something more. Is it the same thing taken to its extremes or was it something grotesque and nearly inhuman, it’s all in how close and from what angles you view through. Tilt your head to the side, look behind you or look quicker, we live in a vastly unique world and there are many ways to die while continuing living, and many darker ways to die and stay dead. Urban Death takes us on a tour, and might make us tilt our heads in life to see things from that oddly warped perspective that is humanity at large, one or two unique points at a time.

 

Urban Death Runs at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group Saturday nights 11pl through April 29th.

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

Conned Smiles

17457281_10104989712113755_7831127464094697024_nI was already smiling shortly after curtain, unable to help myself, the sardonic tone and look of Marty (Finn Snyder) matched every confidence man radio drama and film I grew up absorbing with either my grandmother or my Pa. It was more than nostalgia that had me smiling though; there is just something deliciously decadent about a story dedicated to villains, even those innocent trying to survive life villains, especially if they get their comeuppance in the end. A story about larger than life characters, able to pull off cons left and right; even if the payoff is simply one’s next meal. You can never fully tell where these stories will spin off to, their characters juggling multiple rackets and marks, conning themselves just enough so as to delay revealing to the audience just where the queen is, what the final play is.

Pulling off a constantly changing arc can be dizzying and it takes a strong lead; Dr. King (Jacques Feydont) juggles confidence instilling lines, to doubt sewn undercut asides and wool pulling explanations & fast talk, with a smoothness the measured and opposite to George Scot in the Flim Flam Man. Jacques portrayal had me fully confident that Dr. King alwayse had a way out, or at least thought he had a way out.

Just as a good confidence man spins many plates, Thomas Prosser (Writer/Director) wove many character threads through When Wrong is Right. A quirky pilot in Miss. Anna Preakness played by the energetic Brittney Levine soars through the clouds and her dreams while the others watch, As we watch life & dramas unfold around the players, pulled threads unraveled lay bare before us. The tough guy Shipwreck Shannon (Stephen Loftin) endearingly opening up, but was it just another gimmick? That’s when you find out the truth, not just events data & facts, but truth, the personal truths of the characters. What makes them tick, how will they act, what will they say? Discovering the characters’ lives along the journey might just answer that titular question, at least for the characters if not you personally.WRIR 3

A very character driven story, each of the characters Thomas put forth are interesting, fun, larger than life personas drawing you into their lives bit by bit. If the story and its tone started me off smiling, it was the characters that rounded out my enjoyment. Strong characters are simply a joy to watch brought to life by good actors. You want to see what their next action is; how they’ll mess up or get it right.

For the many smiles I enjoyed, I smiled nearly start through finish, a few scenes feel paced far too slowly. It’s as if the story and characters are so compelling, the scenes wish not to wrap up, move along. Which is true of the characters, portrayed brilliantly, their totality is compelling and you want to see more of them. In part, scene by scene, it can feel at times one is stuck in doldrums on the Atlantic waiting for trade winds to push you forward to the next scene. A line or two trimmed here and there, a bit faster pace on a few scenes can easily prevent that slippage. Finding oneself in a particular scene, emotion, or conversation too long can cause the mind to wander.

As I said though, the totality of the show is quite compelling. It’s one of those shows that can have you tilting your head to the side to confirm that yes the world can be viewed from this angle, and perhapse black and white things are all truly grey. On a case by case situation.

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When Wrong is Right at The Eclectic Company Theatre Fridays & Saturdays 8pm Sundays 2pm through May 7th.

For more information please visit www.electictheatre.org

Nostalgic Connections

3rd Rush 80’s Edition was the nostalgic shock we all needed, providing necessary laughter to a city which had been down in recent weeks. From the opening cords on Leif’s guitar the mood of the crowd rose through the clouds, lifted up on the kinship fostered by so much awesome music!

Six songs take us on a much needed lighthearted journey back to a simpler more rockin’ time. Sebastian coerced the muses to apply pressure to Rush creativity. The intense pressure worked and each piece of 3rd Rush stands alone a unique pillar supporting the overall mandate to make the audience laugh, make us happy.

From go a force flows, the dark theatre is hit with a wave of that rebellious energy from the 80’s, the audience instantly awoken by the cords of Take Me On sit up ready for what’s to come. The lights come up and you’re pulled into a scene so familiar you can’t resist the pull. From here on, these are scenes of life, they happened, somewhere, in some from. The writers all taped into the zeitgeist of our collective lives.

Building on this collective nostalgia 3rd Rush weaves a sense of community, a connection to those around you. 3rd Rush is simply put, good theatre, it accomplishes what Sebastian set out to do and so much more. It made the audience happy, but showed us how connected we are despite our myriad of differences.

Andy Shultz took Dead Man’s Party literally, showing us the what ifs of a world with enough magic for crazy exes to wield. The dead shall rise, and complain about it… in humorous ways (I’m smiling remembering as I write this). Jahel Caldera is infinitely mutable, becoming whatever his directors need of him. This time Jahel intensely acted almost entirely in the background, adding the right amount of depth to shape the world, while not distracting from the central drama unfolding. His interactions with John Lewandowski and Anastasia Elfman serve to build and shape the drama serving as the needed foundation to show the full nature of the world and Anastasia’s character.

From the dead returning, to one’s hens coming home to roost The Great Wisconsin Orgy of ’88 is a fun and poignant piece. David Kaufman has an interesting stage presence; he both goes with the flow and becomes the boulder or bend in the river that changes the flow in unforeseen yet logical directions. This is the second time I’ve seen him on stage and his portrayal of a regular hedonistic man was so real that for all his faults you kinda hope more people had his virtues. If David hit this one out of the park, it’s because Ian Heath set him up with a strong character and a complex gordian knot of emotions to work through with Meghan Lewis, who herself brought that complexity to the drama.

Coming to the end of 3rd Rush the placement of the final two pieces cemented to notion that this is the every day, these dramas unfolding on stage could be any of our lives or those of our friends. We all know a few people who practice voodoo and witchcraft, they might not be able to call down lightning and raise the dead, but they’re out there.

Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight with Steven Alloway playing that friend we know who can never sleep and reads a lot of Anne Rice, you know the one. The silly happenings that unfold leave you happy and ready for the final piece.

Flash Gordon: The Musical-The Play comes in in a Flash, shocking you into alertness for the big finish. Everything in life is big and moving fast, while we’re simply trying to live our lives, work our jobs, maybe do something meaningful. FG-The Play follows the dance ensemble, behind the scenes and through their odd interpretive dance as Hawkmen, living trees, spaceships and who on earth know. There are layers to FG-The Play, life has layers, there is what we do to earn a living and what we want to be doing. It’s frustrating, it’s annoying, but sometimes you get to have fun with it. Pumping the audience with energy in the end to tie together the communal energies 3rd Rush was putting out from the start.

3rd Rush 80’s Edition Side B a Force of Nature Production ran at the Eclectic Company Theatre Friday 3rd-Sunday 5th.

For more information on Force of Nature visit: http://www.FONProductions.com