Two shipwrecked strangers: Actress Renée Marino on ‘Danny and the Deep Blue Sea’

by John K. Adams

You may doubt mere words could draw blood. But you haven’t seen John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, extended through April 15th at Theater 68. It is as if Shanley writes in some secret language which penetrates our emotional core and reconnects us to that true life within us.

Brought to us by Panic! Productions, starring J. Bailey Burcham as Danny and Renée Marino as Roberta, Danny is a perfect storm of stellar writing and spectacular acting.

Since Burcham brought it to Marino over a year ago it has been their dream project. Some of Marino’s passionate comments on the play follow.

According to Marino, Burcham has her complete trust. “It is such a blessing to have a scene partner who helps lift the material as high as possible.” Trust is what you need when venturing onto an emotional tightrope like Danny.

Marino shares, “This play is the epitome of pushing my boundaries and taking the chance to reveal my heart and soul and life’s blood on the stage every night. To make the audience forget they are watching a play.”

“These stories need to be told. Bailey and I are so blessed to be able to explore these emotional depths and share them with audiences. It is really something to hear gasps from the audience.” Marino continues, “It means so much to work with material that isn’t just entertainment, but an opportunity to deeply move people.”

Marino sums up, “Shanley’s writing is so brilliant. The story is so layered, every time I review the script I find new moments to reveal.”

It is as if Shanley writes in some secret language which penetrates our emotional core and reconnects us to that true life within us.

“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” is staged on extended run through April 15th, with three performances the weekend of April 7th and two on the closing weekend, at Theatre 68 located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd. in NoHo. Tickets for both shows are on sale at Plys411.com/danny.

Note: This interview originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on March 6, 2017.

Love and scar tissue on display in ‘Danny and the Deep Blue Sea’ and ‘Poison’

John Patrick Shanley doesn’t write small talk. His characters fight like cornered animals, every syllable flung like a threat. Even expressions of love are spit through clenched teeth. There is a saying that “hurt people hurt people.” John Patrick Shanley brings that to the stage in living color. Shanley’s plays, Poison and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, playing at Theatre 68, are vivid examples of this.

In Poison, the one-act directed by Kay Cole, Kelly (Kelsey Flynn) wants Kenny (Nicola Tombacco) back. Kelly asks a gypsy fortune teller (Katie Zeiner) for a potion to get him, no matter the cost.  Zeiner’s performance as the gypsy is worth the price of admission.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, directed by Ronnie Marmo, opens with Danny and Roberta (J. Bailey Burcham and Renee Marino) growling at each other over beers in a cheap bar. Is this scenario a mating dance, an attempted murder or a suicide pact? Shanley’s play takes them through seething anger and self-loathing to tenderness as these broken souls grope toward a warm embrace in a cold world.

Words on a page are only that without talented actors bringing those words to life. Marino and Burcham draw us into their character’s intimate, horrible reality and reveal, perhaps also within ourselves, the savage redemption of the irredeemable.

Note: This review originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on March 17, 2017.

The False Karass is Your Friend

Kurt Vonnegut’s concept of the false karass from his masterpiece Cat’s Cradle (1963), has assisted me to understand how things work, and don’t in social events.

Vonnegut’s definition of the false karass, (or granfalloon) is a group of people who imagine they have a connection that does not really exist. (A karass is a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident.)

That Vonnegut, however cynically admits to a divine purpose in his book is remarkable in itself.

How this concept has played out in my life may best be illustrated by two small examples.

When visiting friends in Buenos Aires, Argentina an evening ‘out at the clubs’ was planned. My hosts determined that I should borrow some clothes so as not to look “too American” and thus avoid becoming a target of the pickpockets known to frequent train stations and other gathering places.

Suitably disguised (in a shirt and blue jeans), we set off for the evening. While standing on the platform awaiting a train, I assumed what I thought of as an ‘Argentinian stance’ to better blend with the crowd.

Out of nowhere, a ‘man on the street’ news reporter and camera crew approached me and abruptly thrust a microphone in my face. She urgently asked my opinion on who knows what? I was busted. All I could do was stammer that I didn’t speak Spanish in broken Spanish.

Our best efforts ended up signaling every pickpocket within fifty yards that an illiterate foreigner was primed for fleecing. However, we drew so much attention that anyone with malevolent plans steered clear of our party.

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Shortly after moving to Los Angeles I was invited to a costume birthday party to be held for the American drummer of what was then a prominent English rock ‘n’ roll group. Jane, my date was high school friends with the drummer’s wife. It sounded like it might be fun. Jane always insisted that one of their hits was about her.

I was told the planned theme of the party was for everyone to dress as the ‘minister of a church’. There didn’t seem to be much to that requirement. Having lived in the South, I thought I could do a funny version of a huckster – Southern preacher/snake oil salesman.  I found a loud, plaid, polyester jacket to go with a straw hat, string tie, spats and some other details.

When we arrived at the party, I was chagrined to see everyone dressed in long black robes as ministers of the Church of England. One was dressed in drag as a nun. The theme was in the vein of what Monty Python might do.  It made perfect sense that an English band would play with that theme. I didn’t get the memo.

Of course, everyone ignored me. They didn’t know me and it was a party for a member of a close knit group. I had no standing. A non-entity, I felt as appropriate as a beach toy at a baptism.

Then came the big surprise. Jane’s ex-husband arrived carrying a cheap prop cross and dressed to look like Jesus Christ.

He didn’t dress according to the rules either, but being long-time friends with the group, he got a pass. It annoyed me since I was technically dressed as a minister – perhaps in the uniform of another team, but hey…

I always maintained a standard that if dressed in costume one should try to be ‘in character’. When the ex and I were introduced I mustered up my best Foghorn Leghorn, southern drawl and delivered a line that bordered on ironic genius.

“Ah’ve heard a lot about you but I don’t believe we’ve met.” If he was in character, his graceless portrayal was too subtle for me. I offered my hand to shake but his cross was apparently too cumbersome for him to reciprocate.

And not one seemed to notice the brilliance of my delivery.

The rest of the party has faded from memory. Like many parties, the most interesting moment is when you realize you have no reason to be there.

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Nowadays I side-step any false karass that looms on the horizon. I have a strong sense of those with whom I am cosmically linked. The evidence is irrefutable.

Sherry Theater’s ‘The Widow’s Testimony’ provides a dramatic guilty pleasure

Review by John K. Adams

This lurid story of murder, adultery and incest is set in the courtroom of a small, present day, Southern town. Dark secrets are revealed.

The structure of the story is familiar to anyone who has ever watched a courtroom drama. But this story is anything but conventional.

Director Christine Roberts keeps the proceedings moving along at a good clip. Twists are revealed rapidly and sometimes with comic effect.

Roberts guides the large cast to a solid, unified performance. Supporting roles, and even non-speaking roles like the stenographer (Piccora Manning), are delivered with style.

Shalonda Shaw wrote, co-produced and stars in the title role, and delivers a nuanced and believable performance as the beleaguered widow. Shaw’s writing provides a rich showcase for 15 talented performers who we certainly will see more of again.

Donald Prabatah, playing the accused Pete Walker, has few lines but is a riveting stage presence around which the unsettling story swirls.

Malika Smith plays the defendant’s mother, Betty Walker. Portia Kane portrays the murdered man’s mother. Both display poignancy and depth.

Joie Williams and Lex Michael play energetic prosecution and defense attorneys.

Local newscasters, played by Wynter Eddins and Skip Pipo, provide an amusing counterpoint to the dark proceedings.

Six members of the audience act as the jury, so even the cast doesn’t know the outcome of the trial until the very end.

“The Widow’s Testimony” was staged at the Sherry Theater located at 11052 W Magnolia Blvd. in NoHo. For more information on the cast visit Facebook.com/WidowTestimony.

Note: This review originally appeared in the Tolucan Times, December 18th, 2016.

Angel City Chorale brings on the joy

Review by John K. Adams

Merry Christmas!

Last weekend, Angel City Chorale once again delivered Bring on the Joy, their program of glorious chorale music that was unambiguously and unapologetically Christmas music.

If you have never heard music that was transcendent, you have not heard an ACC concert. I can imagine God listening to them with pleasure and turning to his angelic choir to say, “Listen to them. Sing like them.”

Ranging in material from ancient to contemporary, with three Hanukkah songs included, the program offered a rich variety of selections all dedicated to celebrating God’s love for his creation and especially the birth of our Savior, Jesus.

There were also sing-alongs of traditional carols. The audience sang these beloved songs, joyfully joining artistry with worship. There are so many great Christmas songs available from across the centuries and cultures. ACC sang sublime arrangements from the best.

The concert was ably conducted by ACC founder, Sue Fink, including her personable introductions to each song which emphasized “diversity.” Associate Conductor Dan Barnett lent support on the sing-alongs. The orchestra provided warm accompaniment led by Concertmaster Liliana Filipovic and principal accompanists Mark McCormick and Gordon Glor. The many soloists all sang beautifully and with feeling.

ACC now embarks on their annual Tour of Hope, where the singers take their holiday program on the road, performing concerts for the homeless, the elderly and any who could benefit from an infusion of holiday spirit.

Stay tuned for ACC’s upcoming annual Spring Concert in June 2017. Visit AngelCityChorale.org for updates.

Note: this review appeared originally in the Tolucan Times on December 9th, 2016.

‘An Evening with Betsy O’Connell’ is an evening well spent

Review by John K. Adams

An Evening with Betsy O’Connell spoofs the perennial one-woman show about a diva whose ego is larger than her career and is compelled to share the wisdom acquired over the decades as a marginal star of commercials and minor film roles.

While bawdily recounting her 60-year career as a child actress, star of Japanese beer commercials, voice-overs and as an almost-memorable character actor, O’Connell dishes about her many lovers and her long life as an “almost” star. For each missed opportunity or disappointment she assures us she will always “bounce back…like a boomerang.”

It is a daunting task to single-handedly hold an audience’s attention for the duration of a full length play. To do so while generating nearly constant laughter defies belief.

Completely fictional, and yet ringing hilariously true, Betsy is a gem of a play. Ira Heffler’s ironic writing reveals a deep knowledge of how Hollywood works – and doesn’t.  Heffler co-directs and co-produces with long-time collaborator and musical director, Bob Wayne. They keep the tempo light and lively.

Betsy is played by virtuoso Rosanne Limeres. Her sense of timing in her line delivery, singing and her physicality, borders on genius.

Firing on all cylinders, Betsy’s writing, directing and acting coalesce beautifully to make the elusive alchemy of comedy look easy.

“An Evening with Betsy O’Connell” is staged through November 27th at the Lankershim Arts Center located at 5108 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. Tickets can be purchased at Betsy.BrownPaperTickets.com.

Note: this review appeared originally in the Tolucan Times on November 10th, 2016.

Kiki Ebsen’s ‘Joni Mitchell Project’ a fresh take on classic sounds

Review by John K. Adams

It’s that time of year and Kiki Ebsen has once again presented the Joni Mitchell Project at the E-Spot Lounge in Studio City on Friday, November 4th.

In honor of iconic singer Joni Mitchell’s birthday, Ebsen and her band of Joni-inspired musicians delivered an evening of favorite songs spanning Mitchell’s long career with style and devotion.

Mitchell’s intimate, witty and astute tumble-out lyrics and quirky melodies broke all the rules, and still draw us into her tapestry of images.

Ebsen and company did an amazing job recreating those great songs integral to the musical fabric of our lives. Each song sent me into a reverie of where I was when I first heard the song, and the mood of those times.

As familiar as these songs are, and as faithfully as Ebsen sang them, her honest delivery also coaxed nuances out of the songs that I’d never heard before. She and her band really brought Mitchell’s music to fresh life.

Ebsen sang beautifully and accompanied herself on piano and guitar. She was backed by stellar guitarists Grant Geissman and Terry Wollman. Steven Lawrence played bass and the drummer was Matt Starr. Everyone played flawlessly.

Kiki Ebsen performs each song as if just for you. Next up for Kiki is “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen,” on December 28th at Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles.

The E Spot Lounge is located above Vitello’s Italian Restaurant at 4349 Tujunga Ave. in Studio City. For reservations call (818) 769-0905 or visit VitellosRestaurant.com.

Note: this review originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on NOVEMBER 10, 2016.

‘The Maids’ peels the onion at A Noise Within

Review by John K. Adams

What if, through an accident of birth, you were assigned a role that you could neither change nor escape? For example, you awaken daily to appear in an ugly “reality show.” You choke on unglamorous lines, but quitting is unthinkable.

Jean Genet’s The Maids, written in post-WWII France, depicts such a scenario, without the cameras, but with the characters submitting to all the expectations imposed by society’s educational, political and other power structures. It ain’t pretty. But it may feel eerily familiar to some.

The play exposes the characters’ roles in life. Two sisters shift their identities from maid to Madame to director and to audience as they playact through their lives and pretend they can control outcomes. With ever shifting roles, does a core identity exist? Where?

Are you the “other?” Or am I?

The Madame calls the maids her family. But the power difference is brutal, as generously granted gifts may be capriciously snatched away moments later.

Director Stephanie Shroyer says, “This play questions the idea of ownership and examines the very fickle nature of how power is decided.”

Who assigns the roles we play in life? What thoughtless act set our course, long before we knew the stakes? And once that die is cast, can it be miraculously snatched back?

Exploding expectations, Genet rejected all the roles assigned to him, from thief to saint. His art demands that we be wary of unconsciously accepting imposed roles.

Director Shroyer states, “The artist must work at that point between audience acceptance and rejection so as to generate the necessity for a conversation.”

The Maids will get you talking.

“The Maids” is staged at A Noise Within, located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, through November 6. Contact A Noise Within via phone at (626) 356-3100 or online at ANoiseWithin.org.

Note: This review appeared originally in the Tolucan Times, OCTOBER 13, 2016.

Emotionally compelling ‘The Beauty, The Banshee & Me’ at Whitefire Theatre

Review by John K. Adams

Children sometimes feel they were adopted regardless of their personal circumstances. Perhaps it is the beginning of the romantic imagination. Despite an ideal childhood, a child may sense a missed connection lurking in the shadows beyond their safe home.

The autobiographical, one-woman show, The Beauty, The Banshee & Me, written and performed by Cathy Lind Hayes, unflinchingly explores that yearning and her pursuit of the well-guarded truth about her birth parents.

It also exposes the emotional reasons for laws shielding privacy. When everyone seeks reconnection, those laws may seem arbitrary and cruel. But in a culture of convenience, privacy laws protect everyone when the threat of exposed shame might destroy more than any restored connection could heal.

Lind Hayes’ emotional and physical journey, despite legal barriers and warnings from all quarters, makes a compelling and poignant tale. Everyone pays a steep price for her to find this elusive and dubious truth.

Judged purely as performance, this play deserves to be seen. Hayes is a born storyteller and brings her audience to laughter and tears at will as she recounts her decades-long quest for reconnection with lost family.

Her portrayal of all the characters is vivid. She ensures everyone’s motives are understood, even when the resulting actions cause pain or damage relationships.

The Beauty, The Banshee & Me is a cautionary tale that may serve either camp to further their point. And it is also a remarkably well-written drama that deserves to be seen on its own merits.

“The Beauty, The Banshee & Me runs through October 23rd at the Whitefire Theatre located at 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. For tickets and information visit Plays411.com/Banshee or call (323) 960-1055.  

Note: This review originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on 9/22/16.

Double your pleasure with ‘Sawed in Half’ at NoHo’s Acme Theater

Review by John K. Adams

Andrea Mezvinsky tells her story in the one-woman show Sawed in Half, with the warmth and familiarity of an old friend. This reviewer’s friends should be so funny.

Much of Sawed in Half is about Mezvinksy learning to discern her true identity from the off-the-rack-into-the-box variety mandated by our culture: victim, feminist, slut, wife, mother. Can anyone find happiness when all their time is spent learning someone else’s lines and hitting marks set by another?

One of Mezvinsky’s first jobs, as a magician’s assistant, illustrates the contortions she felt required to perform in order to stay employed and to gain acceptance in the world. That she alone was creating the magic while stuck inside a box initiates her journey to self-realization.

Her dead grandmother’s sage advice to her ever “verklempt” granddaughter—urgently offered from beyond a heavenly cloud—is hilarious.

Mezvinsky’s portrayal of Every-woman defies belief with her full throttle, turn-on-a-dime performance. She flips into multiple characters with the ease some wish we had with our TV remote. Take that, Frieda Kahlo!

Veteran co-writer/director Victoria Larimore brings wit and focus to the proceedings.  Larry Minion co-produces.

Anyone who has felt trapped in a relationship, trapped in their life, or trapped in a spa owes it to themselves to see Sawed in Half.

“Sawed in Half” is staged through October 8th, 8pm, at ACME Theater located at 5124-26 Lankershim Blvd. in NoHo Arts District. Call (310) 920-2424 for tickets or email JeromeCleary@aol.com for more information.

Note: This review appeared in the Tolucan Times on 9/22/16.

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