Orange County Theatre Reviews

Into the Woods – They Still Got It (Thoughts on the Reunion and the Show In General) @ Segerstrom Center of Performing Art in Costa Mesa

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THOSE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE SHOW

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

 It has been confirmed.  That spark of electricity that made the original Broadway cast of Into the Woods so unutterably unique still remains.  I can say this with absolute certainty, because I just attended the Into the Woods reunion performance this past weekend at Segerstrom Center of Performing Art in Costa Mesa.  It was so beautiful, I fell in love again.

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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

Merrily-review

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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