Orange County Theatre Reviews

Chapman, Orange, Review, Theater, Uncategorized Comments Off on Tolstoy meets Havana : Anna In the Tropics @ Chapman University – Review |

Tolstoy meets Havana : Anna In the Tropics @ Chapman University – Review

Anna in the tropicsWritten by Patrick Chavis

Set in a Cuban immigrant cigar factory in 1929, the happiness and turmoil brought on by the classic Russian novel Anna Karenina brings to light hard universal truths about love, pride and tragedy. These concepts were explored thoroughly Thursday night in the Pulitzer winning play, “Anna In the Tropics” at Chapman University’s Waltmar Theatre.

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Frighteningly Dull – The Haunting of Hill House @ Costa Mesa Playhouse in Costa Mesa – Review

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Stephanie Thomas, John Sturgeon, Kay Richey, Robin L. Watkins, Elle Grant, Gabriel Lawrence

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A group of people, a haunted house.  A large and ominous mansion that at times seems to have a will of its own, psychologically controlling its hosts and keeping viewers on tenterhooks.  This premise is used in many ghost stories, including the classic horror film The Haunting, which was adapted from Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House.  Imagine a story based on psychological torment, spiritual manipulation, and a desperation for safety that contrasts sharply with a desperation for belonging–now imagine a stage production of that story which methodically strips away most of that tension and you’ve basically summed up the Costa Mesa Playhouse show.  

 

The year is 1960.  A scientist by the name of Dr. Montague has requested that several people join him in the dreaded Hill House, which has a history of people leaving with recommendations that the house be burned to the ground.  These people are: Eleanor–a timid woman, who once had what might be deemed an “otherworldly” encounter as a child. Theodora–a brazen artist who can identify “19 out of 20 cards” when they are held out of her view, and Luke–the young man who will one day inherit Hill House.   They are joined at intervals by the hilarious housekeeper Mrs. Dudley, and the doctor’s own wife Mrs. Montague with her assistant Arthur.  As the play progresses the group is frightened by various aspects of the house, and Eleanor’s own state of mind deteriorates more severely than anyone could have anticipated.

 

  With limited space the production designer created a lovely and realistic looking living room and bedroom.  The bedroom door, which plays a significant part, is well structured in its role.  While not overly spacious, the stage is sufficiently spaced and decorated for its purpose. Largely, the issues arrive not because of the space but because of the lack of movement. 

HH9 - Barbara Duncan Brown, Elle Grant

Barbara Duncan Brown, Elle Grant

 

The players do not move enough.   As previously stated, the audience only has access to the living room and the bedroom.  The moments that take place in the hallway or the tower are voiced by the actors offstage and then discussed later in front of the audience.  It is entirely possible for this format to work.   But that would require the characters to be moving around in the space, and they simply do not.  Instead they sit or stand in one place for long periods of time, moving only occasionally,  seemingly devoid of purpose except that an invisible director told them that it was time to switch from the chair to the sofa.  The lighting is appropriate for setting one mood, but fails to transition into a “storytelling” mode.  In a suspenseful story, things like tone are pivotal, but the lighting of this story does not adjust.  


 

Acting wise the Lead actress Stephanie Thomas is appropriately timid and withdrawn from the beginning, but her loss of sanity fails to come across.  Her Eleanor doesn’t change enough to make the audience feel genuine concern for her well being.  Elle Grant is miscast as Theodora, for although the character is intended to be young and beautiful, it is painful to hear Theodora refer to Eleanor as “kid” and “baby” when Eleanor appears to be in her 40s and Theodora could easily be a high school student.  Gabriel Lawrence is inconceivably monotone as  Luke.  His use of inflection and phrasing is completely devoid of feeling.  The best performance of the night is that of Barbara Duncan Brown.  Her Mrs.  Dudley is cold, purpose driven, and creepy. Honestly, rent the original (1963) movie the Haunting. It’s cheaper & you’ll actually get the scare, you were looking for.      

 

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Ticket Info at the website:

http://www.costamesaplayhouse.com/

 

Location & Dates :  

661 Hamilton St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

October 24th – November 16th 

 

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Politics As Usual : Zealot @ South Coast Repetory in Costa Mesa – Review

Nikki Massoud, Charlayne Woodard and Alan Smyth in South Coast Rep

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

Political intrigue has the potential to be difficult and fascinating.  What really happens behind closed doors is a mystery that tempts the interest of many. This temptation might prompt one to attend Theresa Rebeck’s Zealot. Sadly, Zealot brings nothing new to the political drama genre and it seems to regurgitate important facts but fails to provide a true emotional connection to the audience.    

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Garden Grove, Gem Theater, Musical, Review, Uncategorized Comments Off on Just pull your little finger : Assassins @ Gem Theatre in Garden Grove – Review |

Just pull your little finger : Assassins @ Gem Theatre in Garden Grove – Review

Left to Right Alex Bodrero as John Wilkes Booth, Evan Guido

Adriana Sanchez as Sara Jane Moore and Gretchen Dawson as Ly

Adriana Sanchez as Sara Jane Moore and Gretchen Dawson as Ly

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

Everyone has got the right to be happy–even and especially the people who want to kill the president(s) of the United States.   This exploration of a killer’s humanity takes place in GEM Theater’s musical Assassins.  Lively, well casted, and somewhat educational, Assassins succeeds in keeping the viewer’s attention all the way through.

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Merrily We Roll Along @ Cal State University Long Beach – Review

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photo courtesy : Keith Ian Polakoff Joseph Ruggiero as Frank and Emily Turner as Gussie

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Cal State Long Beach’s production of Merrily We Roll Along boasts some great performances that are ultimately overshadowed by serious blocking issues, that make the performance a little less “Merry” and a lot more disappointing.  

 

Merrily We Roll Along follows the twisting tale of wealthy and influential songwriter and film producer, Franklin Shepard.  The show opens with a party being thrown in Shepard’s honor, only to reveal to the audience that despite his popularity and financial success, the most valued relationships in his life are now in shambles.  The show begins to go backwards in time to reveal episodes from his past that might answer the question of where it all went wrong. At its most basic level, its the story of success not being the end all be all in life.  

 

Working backwards scene by scene, I was reminded a little of movies like Citizen Kane that follow a similar storyline.   And while the question of “where did it all go wrong?” is never definitively  answered, the everyday occurrences of life might be enough to hold our attention if not for one simple thing–the blocking.

 

The staging was distracting beyond belief.   It would appear that someone for some reason thought that large, strange set pieces/walls with holes and little windows would serves as artistic, creative, and avant garde.  While the pieces certainly resembled many other art pieces/paintings that can be seen any number of times in a modern day art exhibit, they do little to enhance the enjoyability of the show.  This is due to the fact that the stage is set in the middle of the audience and the set pieces block at least half of the performance at any given time.   While the pieces were utilized as both “boards”  to write the year on and props (such as doors) I would rather see the performers over the backs of boards any day.  

The strongest performances came from the actors playing Mary(Colleen McCandless) and Charley (Daniel Nakawatase), the blocking and dancing from the rest of the performers was somewhat stilted.  

 
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Garage Theatre, Long Beach, Review, Theater, Uncategorized Comments Off on History with a dash of Burton – Pink Milk @ Garage Theatre in Long Beach – Review |

History with a dash of Burton – Pink Milk @ Garage Theatre in Long Beach – Review

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Pink Milk is a mixed up bag of actors, diverse in age, gender, and ethnicity. While some characters’s personalities shine through others are grimacing weak. It’s a strange and rewarding combination of surreal and historical concepts, pretty high level material if the whole thing didn’t resemble an ambitious high-school play.

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Craig Johnson and Blair Allison

 

The story is that of Alan Turing, a British scientist who is credited by some as making the single “largest contribution” to defeating Nazi Germany and was chemically castrated for the crime of  homosexuality.   In Pink Milk we watch Turing grow from a tender and misunderstood child to a tender misunderstood adult, who is eventually forced to use his talents for a harsh society that ultimately destroys him.

 

The theater itself is small (understatement), it’s a four sided stage surrounded by the audience.  This leaves the viewer with a less-than-easy feeling as everyone settles in.  It takes awhile for this feeling to dissipate, but it does.  Although it isn’t a musical there is some dancing that manages to impress.  In such a small space the fact that they are able to pull us into this strange little Alan Turing world is surprising, but the movement and blocking is intriguing enough to prompt the viewer to focus on the slightest of motions.  They also succeed in showcasing the emotion and overall feel of all of the scenes.  For this I give Pink Milk a pat on the back.

 

Although Alan Turing lived during WWII Pink Milk has a distinctly sci-fi feel.  Things like dangling metallic jewelry as well as Turing’s very inventions give the viewer a sense that this is in perhaps the not-so-distant future.  One of the best examples would be Turing’s contribution of breaking code. In the play it’s simplified and magnified through the use of humanoid robots (all played by the same actor) that inexplicably helps win the war. Though its based on a real person this play is not overly concerned with portraying real life but it’s more focused on giving us a basic sense of what Turing’s life might have been like.   With disjointed scenes and such a heavy emphasis on his need to be aggressive for the sake of the war, I can only assume that Alan Turing’s life was that Hot Topic themed Wonderland without Tim Burton.  There’s this weird obsession with apples that I suppose is relevant because the real Alan Turing may or may not have eaten a poisoned apple prior to his death, and also allegedly liked Snow White..  Additionally, many of the actors play multiple characters but aren’t that good at convincingly being more than one person, so the acting takes a pretty strong hit there, even though some of them are skilled.  Overall it just isn’t decisive or strong enough.

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Matthew Vincent Julian and Maribella Magana

 

6.8/10

 

Performance Dates & Times
Friday, October 3rd- Saturday, November 1st. Thursdays, Friday & Saturday
Doors open at 7:30p.m. Shows at 8p.m.

Show Location
The Garage Theatre
251 E. 7th Street
Long Beach, CA 90813
Metered street parking is available on 7th street and LB Blvd.
Open street parking is available on Palmer Ct and Locust St, west of LB Blvd.

 

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