‘Leather Apron Club’ writer/director Charlie Mount questions his audience

By John K. Adams

“He who sacrifices freedom for security, deserves neither.” – Benjamin Franklin

Political thriller, The Leather Apron Club, written and directed by Charlie Mount, premieres at Theatre West April 22nd.

The title alludes to the club started by Franklin, so that “middling men,” those who really run things, could establish a civil society: fire departments, libraries, etc.

Mount’s play asks us to imagine a shadow government of “the smarter people,” the unseen hands pulling strings beyond citizen purview, yet controlling our lives.

According to Mount, “The play is about you, as an American. How much do you want to know about American democracy? Do you want a democracy or a king? The play asks what you will do when you walk out of the theater,” a timely election-year question.

Mount wrote The Leather Apron Club through his association with Writers in Residence, Theater West’s writer’s unit. His previous plays include Against the Wall and Trumpets and Table-Tipping. Mount expects a lot. He believes writers “should treat the audience as if they are the smartest people in the world. Always play up.”

Mount’s directing credits include Acting: The First Six Lessons, Gaslight and The Fantasticks, among others.

The world premiere of “The Leather Apron Club” is staged April 22nd-May 15th at Theatre West located at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd West in Los Angeles. Show times are Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm. Free parking is available in a lot across the street. For tickets and information call (323) 851-7977 or visit TheatreWest.org.

This piece appeared originally in the Tolucan Times on Aprill 22nd, 2016.

Musical ‘Down on Your Knees and Up to the Moon’ sings at T.U. Studios

Review by John K. Adams

Down on Your Knees and Up to the Moon shreds any conventional expectations of what a musical is. What a fun show!

Set in a posh New York hotel restaurant on the eve of both the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, the plot involves jewel thieves, the discovery of true love, cellophane and the largest catalog of slaps on the West Coast.

The writers explode genre conventions in a series of absurd vignettes while setting up faithful re-creations of jazz-era and doo-wop songs in this jukebox musical. To hear those lyrics and melodies once again, all sung a capella and with flawless affection, was a joy. Chad Doreck brings range and heart to several songs. Many other singers also get their solo shot, and deliver.

It’s a great showcase for emerging actors and singers. Writers Gloria Gifford, Lucy Walsh, Jade Warner, Lauren Plaxco, Chad Doreck, Billy Dudinich and Danny Siegel, populate the stage with loveable types. As the characters fall in love (or not), we fall for them again. The roles aren’t large, but the talented ensemble cast puts its memorable stamp on them.

Director Gloria Gifford keeps things fluid and hilarious as characters pursue their personal dramas. The lighting design effectively draws the audience’s attention to each unfolding story. The costumes and hair evoke their era with style.

Down on Your Knees and Up to the Moon is staged through April 30th at T.U. Studios located at 10943 Camarillo St. in North Hollywood.  Show times vary.

For information and tickets call (310) 366-5505 or visit Tix.com and search: Down On Your Knees.

This piece originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on April 22nd, 2016.

Amanda Markowitz film ‘Love Meet Hope’ conquers all

By John K. Adams

“Overall, I most want to inspire other artists to try, keep trying, take chances and not be afraid to make mistakes.”

Strong sentiments from Amanda Markowitz, star, co-creator and producer of Love Meet Hope, winner of Best Dramatic Film at this year’s Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival.

Love Meet Hope is summarized: “A grandfather’s love stories enlighten a jaded man and a moonstruck girl about the realities of love.” Ed Asner, departing from familiar curmudgeonly roles, plays the sweet grandfather, grieving his wife. How great for a film to depict one man’s love stories that resonate to inspire other’s stories.

Markowitz, who co-created the film with Bradley Fowler, shares, “Love Meet Hope inspires and instills hope within each viewer. It is a beautifully unique project with elements of romance, action, drama and comedy all wrapped up to create a compelling work of art.”

Markowitz graduated magna cum laude from USC’s Marshall School of Business, but it was growing up in her parents’ deli, Factor’s Famous Deli in Los Angeles, where she learned “the importance of everyone involved, from the owner to the busboy,” to achieving success.

That ethic of teamwork translated well to the rigors of producing a movie. Amanda says the crew on Love Meet Hope actually had fun while creating this award-winning feature film. Quite a claim, considering movie productions often resemble a military operation.

Markowitz said the toughest things about doing the movie were “wearing multiple hats and learning to delegate. Adaptability becomes second nature. Having a strong team you can trust 100 percent is absolutely essential.”

Love Meet Hope director Bennie Woodell, describes Markowitz as “an asset and a joy to have involved in any production.”

Follow updates on the upcoming release of “Love Meet Hope” on these sites: LoveMeetHope.com, Facebook: Love Meet Hope, Twitter and Instagram: @lovemeethope. Follow Amanda Markowitz at AmandaMarkowitz.com, Facebook: Amanda Markowitz, Twitter and Instagram: @amandamarkowitz.

This interview originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on March 13, 2016.

Actress Lucy Walsh makes film debut in star-studded ‘Mother’s Day’

By John K. Adams

Mother’s Day is an all-star ensemble piece, directed by Garry Marshall. The motion picture follows the interwoven stories of several mothers and their respective children leading up to their annual holiday. It features an all-star cast with Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson and Lucy Walsh.

Walsh makes her film debut in Mother’s Day, but she is no stranger to performance, having toured internationally with her own music with Maroon 5, One Republic, Bruno Mars, Owl City and Ashlee Simpson. The daughter of rocker Joe Walsh, she has also shared the stage with many Nashville greats. She performs her song “Winter Coat” on the soundtrack of Mother’s Day.

“A gift I got from my dad is his great respect for the craft of performance. I would watch him spend days perfecting a six note riff, only to see him toss it off on stage like he just came up with it. It’s powerful to see the work it takes, that work ethic in practice,” she said.

Loving both music and acting, Walsh is now concentrating on the acting piece. Besides Mother’s Day, she also guest stars this season in Criminal Minds and NCIS.

Walsh describes her Mother’s Day role as “the voice of hope for my friend, played by Jason (Sudeikis). My character is sort of this optimistic person, always pushing forward.”

She identifies Gloria Gifford as the acting coach who kick started her career. “You wouldn’t go to the Olympics without a coach, would you? She’s my coach.”

And Walsh names Mother’s Day Director, Garry Marshall as her mentor. “He’s a legend. He saw me in A Comedy of Errors and brought me in. He comes from television, so he works really fast. You stay in the moment. He taught me so much.”

It rained constantly in Atlanta during the Mother’s Day shoot. This was a heady experience for Walsh, who grew up in arid Los Angeles. “I would stand on the balcony and let the wind and rain soak my hotel room while I was just yelling and hooting at the storm.”

Mother’s Day opens in theaters on April 29th. Lucy Walsh’s song “Winter Coat” is available on iTunes.

To learn more about Walsh visit her page on IMDB.com search:  Lucy Walsh.

This interview originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on April 7th, 2016.

Actor Wayne Péré takes off his mask

By John K. Adams

Wayne Péré is one of those actors you’ve seen in memorable character roles, in countless movies and television shows. You might not know his name but you surely know his face. “Oh! That guy. He’s great,” you might say when he appears in yet another of your favorite shows. Last year you saw him in the acclaimed The Big Short and Trumbo, among other releases.

You can now get to know him better. Péré currently appears in a trifecta of Civil War-era dramas. He plays sympathetic slave owner, Benjamin Murray, in the remake of the iconic Roots mini-series. He plays a recurring character (Rev. Wilowset) in Underground about the ante-bellum Underground Railroad for escaped slaves making their way to the north. And he also appears, opposite Matthew McConaughey, as Confederate Col. Robert Lowery in the feature, Free State of Jones.

Free State of Jones is based on the true event of a small group of southern farmers who seceded from the Confederacy and how their rebellion was crushed.

“People are uncomfortable shining a light on these dark times of history, but I think it’s imperative,” states Péré. “One of the challenges for an actor in this type of historical drama is to bring truth to a character, who may hold views diametrically opposed to views of your own,” Péré continues. “In the end you are still drawing from your own emotional well. How do you get there?”

At this point Péré quotes actress Meryl Streep: “Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what’s apparently different, and finding myself in there.”

Péré also quotes actor Robert Duvall who paraphrases the great acting coach Sanford Meisner: ”When you create a character, it’s like making a chair. Except instead of making it out of wood, you make it out of yourself. That’s the actor’s craft, using yourself to create a character.”

Be sure to schedule time to watch Péré bring truth to the screen in Roots, Underground and Free State of Jones.

To learn more about Péré visit his page on IMDB.com search:  Wayne Péré.  

This interview originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on April 7th, 2016.

Family ties ripple through ‘Effects’ at Renegade Theatre

Review by John K. Adams

Effects, a duo of stellar one-act plays at the Renegade Theatre, explores family ties, loss and “discovery after the fact” from complementary perspectives.

In the first play, “The Bluff,” three Jacks and a Jill share a poker game, memories and grief for the dead woman who was a lover to each of them.

It is only their mutual relationship with their lover that brings these four together. Over the course of their conversation each character comes to “know what they didn’t know” about this complex woman. A fuller picture of her forms for us too, as the characters selectively share their puzzle pieces. And curiously, through her and despite her, they coalesce into a family of sorts.

In “To Mom,” three siblings gather after their mother’s funeral to pack up her knick-knacks, and unpack their long suppressed emotions about her and each other.

The two sisters and brother take turns airing each unique experience of a mother, barely recognizable to the others. While groping toward closure, their memories, resentments and old wounds expose what pulls these siblings apart and binds them together; their vulnerability and armor; who was present and who makes excuses.

The writing and direction of each play reveals an amazing development of character and emotion with economy and style. When done right, one-acts are like polished jewels. These plays and their performers all shine.

Effects is staged through May 1st at the Renegade Theatre located at 1514 N. Gardner St. in Los Angeles.

Tickets are available  through RTGLAEffects.EventBrite.com.

This review was originally published in the Tolucan Times on April 7th, 2016.

‘Julius Caesar’ brings ancient Rome to Pasadena

Review by John K. Adams

What a pleasure it is to watch a well-wrought play, well staged.  William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Pasadena’s A Noise Within, is that play. Wow!

You can still catch it, as it has been extended through May 24th.

The story depicts the conspiracy to assassinate a tyrant (Caesar), and its aftermath. Irony is undeniable as concepts of friendship, honor, and loyalty become conflicted and are twisted beyond recognition by the duplicitous conspirators.

The taut direction drives the plot relentlessly forward, as if in real time, and for the first time. Acting and technical credits are all superb.

I have never seen anything so chilling as the conspirators’ savage attack on Caesar, beautifully and horrifically choreographed by Ken Merckx. Ever the warrior, Caesar defends himself, until the moment he realizes his friend Brutus has joined the attack. Caesar collapses and they fall on him like wolves, screaming “Peace! Freedom! Liberty!”

With Caesar dead, these “honorable men” waste no time garnering power. The crowd’s loyalty is swayed with each mouthing of the words “honor,” “loyalty,” and other demagoguery. Civil war inevitably breaks out.

The moody lighting complements the stark economy of the set pieces where this tragedy, depicting ancient power struggles, plays out in a utilitarian present. Modern era long coats echo Roman garb without distraction.

Julius Caesar is intense, beautiful, moving, and suspenseful until the final blackout.

See it.

A Noise Within is located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena. Information is available at www.anoisewithin.org or (626) 356-3100.

This review originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on May 22nd, 2015.

‘Francis’ is somebody to love

Review by John K. Adams

Francis, Somebody to Love, written and performed by Dana Denham Marsh and directed by Mick Thyer, is going to New York. If you didn’t see it, it will return.

We are not individuals so much as collections of relationships. This one-woman show affectionately opens up the beating heart of one mother/daughter relationship. The sets are as intimate as a young girl’s journal.

Using the soundtrack of her life to transition between vignettes, Francis creates a portrait of innocence and the struggle to understand the mystery of a parent gone away, yet ever present. Francis asks the audience to help her to let go of her mother, so she can live her life. But Francis also acknowledges that her mother will always ride shotgun in her heart.

As a child, her earthy mother was the center of Francis’ universe. But just as Francis’ own identity is blossoming, she must find understanding of her mother’s withdrawal into affairs and pills. Despite her barely present father, Francis blames herself for her mother’s absence.

The conflict between who she is and who her mother wants her to be is revealed with poignant intimacy. Francis’ inner Freddy Mercury wrestles with her mother’s Joni Mitchell.

How the team of Marsh and Thyer accomplish this task so deftly, in a one woman show, is the magic of live theater. Marsh so disappears into her role, that when the performance ends, the lights reveal not a hockey-playing tomboy but a mature performer in command of her craft.

“Francis, Somebody to Love” played at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre, 5636 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. Call (323) 463-7378 or visit www.sfstheatre.com.

This review originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on June 12th, 2015.

Say ‘Centanni’ for romantic Italian dining in Burbank

Burbank’s new culinary jewel, Centanni Trattoria, hides in plain sight on North Victory Blvd.

From the moment you enter, the stage is set. It’s all about engaging the customer, with an effortless, delicious experience.

This reporter observed Alex’s, “you get what you give” philosophy. Greeting clients and vendors warmly, he welcomed them to their “home away from home.”

Who better to provide that fine service than partners Alex Paez and Helen Wassell-Paez, who met while acting in London’s West-end? Acting and restaurant work go together like doing what you love goes with paying your bills.

Loving to eat (who doesn’t?), these two partnered up to manage successful restaurants long before opening their own, Centanni, in Venice, California six years ago. A third partner is Master Chef Marin Santos, formerly of Valentino & Dolce. Chef Marin says little, but his cooking sings. As a client says, “Nobody can cook like Marin.” And what cooking!

Have you tried it?

Offering authentic, homemade, Italian recipes, specials featuring grass fed beef and a heady choice of wine and beer, served by an attentive staff in comfortable surroundings, Centanni is the place. Their ‘Half and Half” lunch special of salad and pasta for $10 is well worth the stop.

The Burbank location has been open for eight months, so you have no excuses—you owe yourself a meal at Centanni. Treat yourself to the best Italian food, anywhere.

Centanni is located at 117 N. Victory Blvd. in Burbank. Call (818) 561-4643 for reservations. Centanni in Venice is located at 1700 Lincoln Blvd. Call (310) 314-7275.

This piece originally ran in the Tolucan Times on November 13th, 2015.

Photo by Alex Paez.

‘Fly’ with the Tuskegee Airmen at The Pasadena Playhouse

Imagine a world with no freeways. The only practical way to travel across country was by train. There were no smart phones, no internet, nor television.

This was before Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. made their marks. It was a time when, by law, some men and women were restricted in their movements, actions and speech. It was a primitive time. Things hadn’t changed since the Civil War. But this time is not imaginary. Men and women living today remember it.

Fly, the play, tells the true story of living men, African-American men, who were the first to successfully challenge that system and lead the way to freedom.

It is the story of men learning to fly.

Using multimedia, dialogue and tap dance, they tell of human struggle and triumph, not as a history lesson, but so the audience sees through the eyes and feelings not of heroes but of men. They tell the inside story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first squadron of African-American fighter pilots.Writer/Director and Tony Award winner Ricardo Khan and his co-writer Trey Ellis have done something remarkable with their play Fly, which begins performances January 26th at The Pasadena Playhouse.

Chief Technical Consultant, Dr. Roscoe Brown, a veteran Tuskegee Airman said, “We knew there was racism. It wasn’t whether it would change, but when? We knew if we could excel, we could move things forward.” And they did.

Back then, the immediate threat was fascism. These men wanted to defend their country and defeat the enemy. And they conquered their own demons.

In 2008, surviving veterans attended President Obama’s first inaugural and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. 2016 is the 75th anniversary of that first Tuskegee Airmen class.

Mr. Khan states, “We want to make today’s generation understand a time when people were not just looked at as different, but were separated and kept apart, by law.”

He continued, “There are lots of forces seeking to divide us today. We need stories like this, to bring us together. It isn’t just about race either, nor politics, age or class, but our common humanity.”

Back then whole regions of the country were isolated from each other. Those first Tuskegee Airmen came from Iowa, New York, the southern U.S. and the Bahamas. They had much to learn from each other and about themselves.

During WWII, the Tuskegee Airmen conquered a multitude of concrete legal and social challenges. However, their story is universal. Today, each generation and every individual, must also break free of perceptual chains and self-imposed doubts before their spirits may soar.

See the play “Fly” from January 26th-February 21st at The Pasadena Playhouse located at 39 S. El Molino Avenue. For tickets and information visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org or call (626) 356-7529.

This piece appeared originally in the Tolucan Times on January 22, 2016.

Photos by Elias Feghali.