Originally produced at the Stratford Festival of Canada in 1996, Barrymore, a play by William Luce, went onto Broadway in March of 1997. Christopher Plummer won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play by incarnating the celebrated actor John Barrymore in this 90 minute two-hander.
On November 22, 1963 – fifty-years ago this November– President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was slain in broad daylight in downtown Dallas, Texas, by, according to official accounts, a lone gunman. That gunman was 24-year-old former United States Marine Lee Harvey Oswald. Christian Lavation’s world premiere play, Sunny Afternoon, produced by Gangbusters Theatre Company, explores the tick-tocking forty-eight hour period in which Oswald was in the custody of the Dallas Police.
Wild in Wichita
It’s not particularly typical to see complicated septuagenarian characters on display in a theater piece. Oh, there’s D.L. Coburn’s The Gin Game and Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, as well as The Trip to Bountiful by Horton Foote, but what makes Lina Gellagos’s Wild in Wichita (Locuras en Wichita) so special is that it is populated with rich characterizations, free of stereotypes and full of simple profundities.
Although the original premiere of Carmen was less than successful, the opera quickly found a following and has become a staple of the operatic repertoire. Audiences love its irresistible combination of melody, sex, and drama, while divas of both the soprano and the mezzo persuasion leap at the chance to let down their hair, grab a pair of castanets, and sashay across the stage as Bizet’s eponymous, gypsy heroine.
Strong casting choices and the appearance of Placido Domingo in the pit only a couple of months after emergency surgery made Carmen a more enticing choice for the opening night of LA Opera’s 2013 – 2014 Season than it might have seemed when originally programmed.
Less eagerly anticipated was the third appearance of the Emilio Sagi production of the opera from Madrid’s Teatro Real. Massively traditional is the best way to describe Gerardo Trotti’s sets, while Jesus del Pozo’s costumes are firmly in the serviceable category. Current director Trevore Ross hewed close to the original concept, even retaining some of the staler “shocks” like the drag queen Lillas Pastia. That said, he blocked the large chorus efficiently and made sure that the focus was always appropriately directed.
Patricia Bardon was a more thoughtful and controlled Carmen than usual. This is not to say her interpretation was lacking in passion or sex appeal. Only that she needed to push neither her sexuality nor her temperament. She simply was the character. Her lustrous mezzo revealed subtly seductive nuances in the famous first act showpieces, but it was her slow-growing intensity through the rest of the opera which made her Carmen so compelling.
Brandon Jovanovich was a politely virile Don Jose in the boy-next–door mold, and one could easily see the almost irresistible challenge he presented to Carmen. But their chemistry felt intermittent and fitful. He seemed much more at ease with his hometown girl, Michaela. Still, his powerful tenor commanded the stage, and he sang a heartfelt and elegant “Flower Song.” But, until the final act, he seemed unable to fully commit to the character’s desires.
Pretty Yende proved to be a vocally attractive and charming Michaela who grew in depth and maturity as the opera progressed. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s Escamillo was a suitably magnetic and an engaging rival for Carmen’s affections.
In the pit, Domingo showed no sign of convalescence as he led a swiftly paced performance that emphasized the score’s color and vitality.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion September 21 – October 6, 2013 www.LAOpera.com
Lorenzo Pisoni has come to town to play out the true story of his life as the youngest performer in the Pickle Family Circus, a San Francisco area little Big Top extravaganza that was seen by thousands of people and launched the careers of some legendary circus performers. Lorenzo learned clowning from his father at an early age and the story of the sensation, misfortune, and intricacy of life in the circus is outlined and detailed admirably in Pisoni’s 2009 show, Humor Abuse.
Now playing at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, through November 3, Humor Abuse is a one-person play created by Pisoni and director Erica Schmidt, in 90 minutes (no intermission). It not only chronicles Pisoni’s unique relationship with his professional clown father, Larry, with whom he signed a player’s contract to perform at age 6 – it also treats us in the audience to some astonishing and injury-defying clown stunts, such as impressive juggling feats, painful-looking pratfalls, and other slapstick bits.
But at the heart of this singular sensation of a show is the love and demands of a father who provides an apprenticeship in a profession that many of us have enjoyed with a degree of aesthetic distance. Here, however, we get the lowdown on being a clown. Father and son would spend hours practicing back-flips, quick-slips, and other physically rigorous clowning routines – in what Pisoni describes as “the greatest years” of his young life. Time and again, after each strenuous practice routine, Larry would say to his son “Do it again,” conveyed in a (prerecorded) voice that seems to echo from the hinterlands of a nostalgic past.
Director Schmidt adds wonderful sentimental touches to the program, such as projecting pictures of little Lorenzo in full clown regalia, performing or preparing with his father. These many visuals underscore Pisoni’s engaging narrative. But nothing is more appealing that Pisoni’s present day persona. With the muscular body of an Olympic gymnast, a face that’s movie star handsome, and stentorian vocal abilities, Pisoni claims not to be naturally funny – though he is hilarious in some of his derring-do. He also says that he fears heights. You wouldn’t know it from the altitude at which many of his pratfalls take place.
Now Lorenzo Pisoni has gone on to “legitimate” theater, having played on Broadway in such shows as “Equus” and “Henry IV.” Clearly though, you can take the boy out of clowning but you can’t take clown out of the boy. Pisoni’s “Humor Abuse” demonstrates this fact.
Humor Abuse continues at the Mark Taper Forum through November 3. The Mark Taper Forum is located at 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. Show times are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 1 p.m. on Sundays, with evening performances at 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. For reservations, call (213) 626 – 2772. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.centertheatregroup.com.
It is said that Queen Elizabeth I was so taken by the character of Falstaff in Shakespeare's HENRY IV Parts 1 & 2 that she suggested a play showing Falstaff in love. Whether this offhand commission was a real or apocryphal inspiration, Shakespeare did write THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. The comedy follows the Fat Knight in pursuit of two of these wives who are less than merry when they discover he has written each of them identical love letters. Though the play is generally regarded as one of Shakespeare's weakest efforts, it has remained popular and has served as the inspiration for a number of operatic treatments.
In Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, 4000 Miles, Herzog uses her own grandmother as a prototype to color the many quirks in the script’s aged leading lady – a 91 year-old Vera (the marvelous Jenny O’Hara in a perfect portrayal).
The Sunshine Boys
Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys was first produced on Broadway in 1972; it featured Sam Levene and Jack Albertson in the title roles, playing long estranged vaudeville partners – Lewis and Clark. It was made into a film in 1975 with George Burns and Walter Matthau, and in 1997 it was produced as a television event starring Woody Allen and Peter Falk.
Marilyn...Madness & Me
Movie star Marilyn Monroe has been the muse for many – from artists to athletes. Legend that she is, Monroe, too, is the subject of tales both true and false. Of course, there are also those gray areas called conjecture and speculation, as well. Was Marilyn the victim of suicide? Was her death a murder? Could it have been an accidental overdose?
The Dream of the Burning Boy
In David West Read’s 2011 play, The Dream of the Burning Boy, coming of age in the face of love, loss, and grief offers a poignant lesson for characters and audiences of various ages and stages of development. Initially produced by the Roundabout Theatre, in New York, Burning Boy has been produced across the country. Now, in its west coast premiere, The Dream of the Burning Boy comes to the Malibu Playhouse, through October 13.