Hits and Misses from Storyography – 2017

Each year at this time I re-publish a selection of some of my blogs that may have slipped through the cracks, or I hope will find readers who might have missed them on the first pass.

And I include some of my personal favorites.

I am Woman, Hear Me “Wahhh!” is a little more political than usual for me but, like it or not, I felt my take on the recent sex scandals had to be said: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/11/26/i-am-woman-hear-me-wahhh/  

Gumshoe, Meet Banana Peel is a rant from a different place that I hope gives you a smile: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/gumshoe-meet-banana-peel/

Shakespeare, On the Rocks is a whimsical re-imagining of some of the Bard’s more famous plays: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/10/24/shakespeare-on-the-rocks/

Eclipsed by a Fidget Spinner is an exploration of our need for diversion and the cyclical nature of our lives. This was printed in a recent edition of the Tolucan Times: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/eclipsed-by-a-fidget-spinner/

You Kiss With That Mouth? was my most read blog this year. I’m told my misadventures with dentists is very entertaining and funny. Don’t forget to floss: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/kicking-when-im-crowned/

Liberals and the Seven Stages of Grief examines the Kubler-Ross model of grief through the prism of the 2016 election: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/liberals-and-the-seven-stages-of-grief/

Another Brick in the Wall recounts my brief tenure as a middle school teacher: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/another-brick-in-the-wall/

Love and Scar Tissue is a reprint of a review I did for the Tolucan Times of the amazing Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. I wish everyone could have seen this riveting performance: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/love-and-scar-tissue-on-display-in-danny-and-the-deep-blue-sea-and-poison/

Thank you for reading my blog this year. I very much appreciate your comments and attention. I hope 2018 is wonderful for all.

Why Movies About Movie Making Flop

It seems most movies tanked this summer. But why do movies about the film business do especially badly at the box office? I don’t mean films that use Hollywood as a backdrop, great films like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ or ‘Sunset Boulevard’.

I mean movies that present the film business as interesting in and of itself. You know, shows like ‘An Alan Smithee Film’, ‘Map to the Stars’, ‘The Player’ ‘Won Ton Ton…’ and others. Did you see any of them? Exactly my point. These films didn’t sell enough pop corn to pay the ushers.

Why audiences don’t ‘get’ Hollywood-centric stories is a question I’ve never heard answered. I think it has to do with Hollywood’s self-promotion as a land of limitless glamour and glimmering success. There must be conflict to successfully engage the audience. How can the audience identify with anyone from that fanciful place untouched by darkness?

Comedies about the film business fail because they are filled with self-aware ‘in’ jokes, funny to those in the movie and few others. Alternately, the character’s problems may seem contrived. Can I truly sympathize with Red when she actively solicits the attentions of the Big Bad Wolf?

A case in point is a TV series I recently endured. The premise of it is absurd and I don’t recommend it. A secondary character, a writer is complaining about his sorry lot as the lead writer of a hit show. He is so put upon by his producer boss, that he has to work during ‘hiatus week’ while everyone else is vacationing or sitting by the pool. Any working schmo can identify with that. Who wants to work while everyone else is out playing? Not me.

But when you consider how much this ‘poor’ guy gets paid to put words on paper (six figures easily, plus golden time, residuals, etc.), our sympathy starts to fade. Perhaps his kids will respect him when they learn their Harvard tuition is completely funded. Meanwhile, he kvetches about his horrible job while riding around in a bit-coin powered limo and attending exclusive parties to schmooze flavor-of-the-week glitterati. Poor guy.

Understand that writing in Hollywood is a difficult and often thankless job. Writers often don’t get the appreciation they deserve. That is not my point. But Joe Blough, working two jobs just to keep up, and mowing his own lawn has a hard time feeling this character’s pain.

I never met a Hollywood writer who complained about his job. Whatever his private life, Hollywood people know they are blessed by whatever gods they grovel to. They would never be tempted to bite that beast’s gracious hand.

But that is only part of the problem. You have actors whose job is to give a gloss of authenticity to what is an inherently artificial process. It is hard enough to succeed at playing a cop, a housewife, or a lawyer. But an actor portraying an ‘authentic actor’ is beyond the best skills of most talented thespians. How exactly does an actor act, in the wild, when he’s not acting? What are they ‘really’ like? Just like you and me? Really?

Also, creating sympathetic portrayals of producers, directors and others in the business can be a task fraught with many pitfalls. Some of us ‘civilians’ may have to deal with out-sized egos and immense pressures in our hum-drum lives, but in Hollywood? Recent headlines only hint at what some of these powerful people are about.

But there is something un-real about how Hollywood elite deal with even mundane tasks. I heard Frank Sinatra had toilet paper in his house bearing his own image. Is your guest bathroom stocked with toilet paper with your smiling face printed on each two-ply sheet?

Asking an actor (read: someone truly fake and insincere) to honestly portray someone who is fake and insincere, creates a feedback loop of artifice. When it fails, it just looks like bad acting. But it is an honest attempt (by an inherently dishonest person) to portray as genuine, someone they know is dishonest. And that last bit is the problem. They try to make them genuine.

Some actors just play themselves and really only play one role, regardless how many shows they are in. Others never play themselves and completely transform once that camera starts rolling. When is either genuine though?

Not to say ‘genuine’ is impossible to do. In the recent mini-series ‘Feud,’ the story of the legendary competition between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (played wonderfully by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lang) all the elements combine to form a veritable work of genius. Centered on their one movie together, ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ the series does everything right that most movies about movies fail miserably at. The characters are well known and bigger than life. The supporting roles are deliciously consistent with our expectations of who these people were. The writing is superb.

We see the characters on and off camera and they behave just as we expect they behaved, cat claws and all. Despite their bigger than life personas, the actors and writers succeeded in bringing out these character’s genuine humanity and the poignancy of their loneliness while embracing their prodigious flaws. They bring out their third dimension.

And the filmmakers never try to convince us these stars were normal or ‘just like us’. Hell, no! We don’t need to believe the ‘rich Hollywood actors, being paid millions of dollars to portray people just like you and me’ actually are just like you and me.

They succeed by highlighting our lives and allowing us to see things more clearly through their depiction on the big screen.

But they are not like us. And that is alright. I don’t want their flaws. I have my own. Watching them is entertaining. Watching me, not so much. (That is why they are known as ‘stars’!) If they were like me, I certainly wouldn’t be buying tickets to watch them.

Click  to see the Storyography Video Memoir website:  http://www.lifestoryography.com/

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.

Hits and Misses from the Past Year

It has been a very busy January and I have not produced much new writing this month.

However, the last year was an opportunity to write my blog, re-publish some items from my output at the Tolucan Times, and also, in a burst of creativity, to write a series of eight short plays. One of these received “semi-finalist” status in a short play competition.

Some of my blog posts did not get the attention I thought they deserved so to reprise 2016, I offer a collection of links for those of you who might enjoy a play review, a commentary, or a few memories from my past in no particular order:

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/lying-in-wait-for-santa/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/the2tails-helps-you-celebrate-your-inner-mermaid/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/an-evening-with-betsy-oconnell-is-an-evening-well-spent/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/sexist-pet-costumes-or-the-unexamined-life-is-not-worth-leaving/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/p-l-a-y-noir-one-acts-as-dark-as-it-gets/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/an-occasional-squall-would-add-to-the-source-and-create-a-rising-crescendo/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/say-centanni-for-romantic-italian-dining-in-burbank/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/racing-with-evolution/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/missed-opportunities/

Enjoy!

 

 

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.

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