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Lysistrata Jones

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Though it was initially titled Give It Up when it was performed in Dallas, Texas in 2010, by the time it arrived in New York in 2011 Douglas Carter Beane’s musical had been re-titled Lysistrata Jones. After playing Off-Broadway for six months, it transferred to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre, where, in spite of favorable reviews, it closed after only a month.

Derived from the Aristophanes’ antediluvian comedy, Lysistrata, where upstart Greek women withhold intimacies from their men as a protest against the long-lasting Peloponnesian War,– Lysistrata Jones is now a musical-comedy. Composed by Lewis Flinn (with lyrics by Beane) it has been updated to modern times.

Now, Anaheim’s Chance Theater is staging Lysistrata Jones in its west coast debut. Under Kari Hayter’s energetic direction, along with Kelly Todd’s calorie-burning choreography and Rod Bagheri’s musical direction (of a four-piece, onstage band), it comes to life in all its comedic sexuality. Beane’s version of this Greek classic places the action on the campus of Athen’s University, where the school’s basketball team has been on a cursed, and seemingly unending, losing streak.

When cheerleader Lysistrata Jones (soprano Devon Hadsell in an endearing and exhaustive portrayal) proposes that the entire cheerleading squad withhold affections from the team players, a gender-based tease-fest and rivalry is set into grinding, thrusting musical motion.

With a dozen committed performers singing and dancing over two-acts, in two-hours and ten-minutes, we witness over two-dozen song and dance routines played out on Christopher Scott Murillo’s basketball court-like scenic design, under Matt Schieicher’s stadium-like lighting motif,  aided by Ryan Brodkin’s pristine sound engineering, and Bradley Lock’s cute collegiate costuming. What’s more, the action moves along like lightning on the court, punctuated with bouncy comedy and titillating sexual innuendo (it’s not a show for children).

Kudos to the players of Lysistrata Jones; each has an abundance of game. The classically-trained Hadsell sets the bar high as Lyssie J (as she is referred to by other characters). Her solo rendition of "Where Am I Now" resonates with human emotion as if it were inspired by an angel of affect.

Still, Camryn Zelinger (she’s one formidable Hetaira, with pipes that blast), J.D. Driskill (Driskill’s nuanced interpretation of "When She Smiles" is winning), Robert Wallace, Ashley Arlene Nelson (Nelson is filled with brashness and chutzpa as Robin), Michael Dashefsky, Darian Archie, Klarissa Mesee, Danielle Rosario, Chelsea Baldree, Ricky Wagner, and Jackson Tobiska all hold their own and then some in this physically demanding production. And though the story is meant to be inspirational – the company sung finale, "Give It Up," underscores the show’s can-do attitude – there are few things more inspirational than a consummate cast of triple-threat talents getting a staging just right. That’s what the Chance has achieved with Lysistrata Jones.

Lysistrata Jones christens the theater’s new, and newly named, space – Chance Theater at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center– and continues through March 9. The new venue is located at 5522 East La Palma Avenue, Anaheim. Evening performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, call (714)777-3033. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.ChanceTheater.com.

 

Spotlight

More of the Fringe Festival

Starf*cking

Despite its provocative title, Sharon Lintz’s Starf*cking is not a sensational tale of the seamy side of Hollywood. Her loosely linked monologues, along with a single two-person scene, are a sensitive examination of how the public’s obsession with celebrity can inform crucial moments in their lives.

Alternately humorous and poignant, the scenes play mostly in the privacy of a bedroom. Lintz’s pungent dialog is so specific that even characters we assume we know surprise us. Martin (Stephen DeCordova) longs for the now forbidden sensual pleasure cinema goddesses of the 30’s took from smoking. In the most overtly comic episode, the hilariously high-octane Mary (Kelly Schumann) relates how a marionette led her to an afternoon on a porn set. A genial Randy (Blaine Vedros), overshares a bit when he reveals his special use of Kurt Cobain as a sexual aid. While a rebellious Ruben (Tory Devon Smith) changes out of the suit he hates and dons his gay apparel, as he dreams of Egypt and Eminem. Patty (Dawn Joyal) makes us feel the heartbreak of a cancer patient calling on the young Elizabeth Taylor as her talisman. In the disappointing final scene, Meagan (Katy Yoder) and Jake (Ali Allie) bond over movies in a motel room.

Eric G. Johnson has directed the play with a sure hand, and the cast is eminently watchable. Though the final scene feels out of place, the rest of the production is worth your time.

Theatre Asylum Lab   June 7 – June 27, 2015   Tickets: http://hff15.org/2192

Suicide Notes:  In Their Own Words

Stan Zimmerman is always the funny guy. He's the writer with the jokes coming fast and farcical, from his work on the Brady Bunch movies, to countless TV shows, and his Fringe hit from last year, Meet and Greet, which went on to a regular run after the Festival ended.

But this year Zimmerman has moved out of his comfort zone with a project he is passionate about. A project born of his personal confrontation with the suicide of a friend and his realization people in pain are doing this all around us.

Suicide Notes:  In Their Own Words is simply that. Suicide notes collected from people who, except in once instance, have successfully taken their lives. Some are famous, most you wouldn’t know. But their pain and the horrifying darkness that surround them is palpable in their last words. Words that are surprisingly cogent and memorable. Some choose to explain, others to blame, still more try to make sure that no remaining loved one feels blame.

As writer and director, Zimmerman has smartly chosen to present the words in as stark a manner as possible. The four talented actors, Olivia D’Abo, Allie Gonino, Peter Onorati and Brendan Robinson read the notes from music stands. While they imbue the words with feeling, there is no grandstanding. These final words are treated with respect and dignity.

Zimmerman has added some important statistics about suicide to put the notes into context. The show is difficult and may not be typical Fringe fare, but it earns its place there. And it definitely has a place beyond the confines of the Fringe. For in a world where so many are heartsick, bullied, survivors of war, mentally ill or just achingly lonely, the message of this piece should be heard. A portion of the proceeds for the show will go to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Theatre Asylum    June 19 – June 28, 20 15    Tickets: http://hff15.org/24

Unemployed Finally

Heather R. Dowling has had 30 jobs in 30 years. She’s waited tables, worked in retail, been a reporter, even dabbled, highly unsuccessfully, at a Navy career. Sometimes the jobs were a search for meaning in life and sometimes they were a screen to hide behind. But in Unemployed Finally, Heather tells her tale of serial employment with good humor and the new-found knowledge that a job doesn’t necessarily make the woman.

Dowling is an energetic and engaging performer who makes you care about her crazy history, both the good and the bad. You root for her to find the right guy and then to take steps to realize the dream she’d lost track of. Of course, the title tells you that she’s made some changes, but her odyssey is worth your time.

Elephant Studio   June 7 – 25, 2015

 
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