Orange County Theatre Reviews

The Barber is In: Sweeney Todd is Back in Town @ South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa – Review

(photo by Jordan Kubat)

Written by Scotty Keister 

Chinese proverb: He who seeks revenge should remember to dig two graves.

The legend of Sweeney Todd is a long and storied one. Todd began life in the mid-19th century in a penny dreadful tale. In this original version Todd was a secondary character. He soon came to life in a stage version penned by George Dibdin Pitt. His legend continued throughout the 20th century in dozens of stage, film and television versions. Ultimately, when British playwright Christopher Bond created Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street in 1973, new life was breathed into Sweeney’s aging, bloodthirsty barber. The tale was fleshed out, making the story into more of a revenge tragedy, and not simply a bloody horror tale. This is the version that first brought Sweeney to Stephen Sondheim’s attention and led to him creating  what might be considered the ultimate edition in 1979. Continue Reading

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Behind the Orange Curtain with Scott Keister #1

IMG_1025_100dpi 2 Written by Scott keister 

What does it take to put on a successful theater show? This simple question is posed to OC theater producers and attendees every weekend, with varying results. And, as it turns out, it has little to do with money. There are a lot of choices for community and professional theater, everywhere from Fullerton to Laguna and spots in between. You can see Broadway touring companies at Segerstrom for big bucks in a not-so-friendly space with weak sound and bad sight lines, or you can see some what recent Broadway shows at local theaters as soon as they become available, produced at drastically smaller budgets, usually at more than one theater per season (Les Miserables is playing at no less than two spaces next year). Still, what it comes down to is not the size of the check behind the show. It’s the limits of the imagination, within those who produced it. Continue Reading

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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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Maple & Vine @ The Chance Theater in Anaheim – Orange Curtain Podcast #3

Written & Recorded by : Patrick Chavis 

Question & answer segment with the cast of Maple & Vine @ the Chance Theater.  

Synopsis: Katha and her husband Ryu have become allergic to their 21st-century lives. After they meet a charismatic man from a community of 1950s re-enactors, they forsake cell phones and sushi for cigarettes and Tupperware parties. In this compulsively authentic Eisenhower America, Katha and Ryu are surprised by what their new neighbors—and they themselves—are willing to sacrifice for happiness.

Buy tickets here:
http://chancetheater.com/production/maple-vine/

Date & Location :
September 19, 2014 — October 19, 2014

Chance Theater
5522 E. La Palma Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92807

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Looking Over Santa Ana : The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy – Review

“Santa Ana Toy Theater” A collaborative work by Adriana Sanchez Alexander, Chilo Te, Zuleica Zepeda

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 
I recently attended  The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy in Santa Ana, which  is a story centering on the community’s response to the death of a young boy playing in the streets of Santa Ana.  With a large cast and crew running around determined to bring the audience different stories and experiences, the show is muddled and lacks decisive strength.

The play is a walk-through show meaning you’re standing the entire time.  The production takes place outside, and it begins when each audience member receives a card with the image of their “tour guide” on it.  Once the prologue concludes, everyone begins to walk through the show.  It doesn’t matter which tour guide you get or what order you see the scenes in because the characters are fairly independent of each other–they are just different people showing varied responses to the same event.  I want to give them their props, this is a pretty neat idea and it’s always cool to see something different.  Unfortunately the execution is just not there.

The sound issues are distracting.  I am all about suspension of disbelief, but it really takes away from the current performance, when I can hear the scenes going on at the other side of the courtyard. Things are spaced pretty far apart as they are.  I suppose if placed inside a building and the audience walks from room to room instead of yard to yard some sort of sound proofing could be placed into effect, but that might make it harder for the audience to travel without smashing into each other.  It might just be one of the hazards of putting on a play in this format.  Not sure what the solution to this particular problem is.

There were puppets.  Several puppets.  Personally, I could do without a few of the puppets.  But they seem to go over well with the children. I tried to keep an eye on them to see how they were enjoying things, and it seems to really be a 50/50 shot as far as how they cope.  Some kids laugh, others sort of pace around in circles during the more tedious parts of the show, despite the actors urging them to come forward and dance at surprising and infrequent intervals.  If you are worried about whether or not your little ones will be scarred for life from such gory material, don’t be.  You know your kid best of course, but the fact of the matter is that the actual death scene is done with a car made from a poster cut out. The subject matter is very dramatic and there are people crying but I didn’t notice any children getting particularly freaked out by anything going on.

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My main problem with the show is it’s so undecided.  It wants to be both light and dark, both life and death. Moments that should be filled with pain and anguish fall flat because the actor seems to be holding back (possibly because she knows that another scene is taking place fifty feet away)  and moments that should be lighthearted and entertaining are for the most part sporadic and confusing.  There was a vague outline of an overarching theme but for the most part it was pretty nondescript. Since the story is so spread out over many years the ending I felt sort of comes out of nowhere. 

As far as comprehension goes, if you do not speak Spanish/you have relatives that don’t speak English I am sure you’ll be able to understand the gist of what is going on.  It is mostly just a matter of patience.  Do you have the patience to stand through a minute or two of dialogue in a language that you aren’t fluent in?  If so you will be just fine.

All in all, if you want to educate your child on the dangers of playing in the street, take them to this show.  If you want to familiarize yourself a bit with the culture of Santa Ana, or if you want to brush up on your Spanish, or just want to watch a play in a format you might not have seen before, go to this show.  For the purpose of pure entertainment though, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Side note : Certain actors were particularly believable.  I really enjoyed the performances of Selene Peréz who plays Luz, Bryan Alejandro Perez who plays Yound Salvador, and Samuel Matthews who plays one of the Andrés boys.  Well done to all three.

7/10

Location & Dates : City of Santa Ana Civic Center Plaza September 18th,2014-September 28,201 

Admission : Free

Check out the plot synopsis and ticket information here:http://www.scr.org/calendar/view?id=7331

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