Monthly Archives: July 2014

Theater: UnMasqued presents ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

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SCREAMfmLondon

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros plays from a stereo in the background as audience members take their seats upstairs at the Pieter Performance Art Space for the UnMasqued theater company’s second week of “Much Ado About Nothing” performances.

As we wait, the Friar (Daniel Ryan Wallach) approaches everyone individually and warns us that there is going to be some “audience stuff” later. He hands me a neon pink business card that, on one side, identifies him as “that one guy you met at that one party who thought you were awesome.”

It was the most interesting reinterpretation of “Much Ado About Nothing” I’ve ever seen.

In the UnMasqued production, the characters join together to form The Arragons, a touring band of bluegrass/folk musicians, who are returning to their favorite venue, The Messina, to perform songs they have written about their adventures for an upcoming album called “Much Ado About Nothing.” It’s really amazing how well this concept works and how seamlessly the original music is woven into Shakespeare’s text.

The story — with all its mischief, romantic entanglements and comedy — lends itself remarkably well to a cast of cool, young modern-day musicians.

The production begins with an impressive, rousing opening number featuring several of the multi-talented actors that comprise the cast on a range of instruments, including the accordion, fiddle and harmonica. It is understood that this is a homecoming concert after the band has been away on a year-long tour.

“That’s when I first met Hero,” Claudio (Dillon Horner) says of the last time the band appeared at The Messina when the song is finished. Then, the backdrop of colored handkerchiefs is moved aside, and the play begins.

The production is extremely well-executed, and elements of the unique bluegrassy theme are consistently evident in every scene.

Ty Fanning and Torey Byrne are especially entertaining as Benedick and Beatrice. They have great back-and-forth chemistry and are hilariously expressive as the characters evolve from hating each other to being tricked into realizing that they love each other.

Kristyn Chalker gives another standout performance as Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon. She has a strong, commanding stage presence, and the gender-reversal of this role adds an additionally compelling element to the character’s story — most notably when it comes to her relationship with her troublemaking brother Don John (Josh Henry).

Before the second act begins, everyone in the audience is presented with a handful of confetti and a balloon, and Leonato (Neil Fleischer) leads us in a call-and-response sing-along of “My baby’s getting married, / But Benedick’s got the blues.”

It becomes clear that UnMasqued’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is not just a play and not just a concert. It becomes a much more immersive experience as cast members climb through the audience, pulling people up to join in on the dancing and, at one point, to take notes on a chalkboard during an interrogation of Borachio (Parker Wilmoth) by the night watchmen, who include the exceptionally amusing Dogberry (Harriet Fisher) — the real star of the second act.

Altogether, I was quite blown away by the quality of this production. Though the company is so new, “Much Ado About Nothing” is incredibly fun and outstandingly well-produced. I left the theater tapping my toes, feeling strangely excited about Shakespeare. It’s a good feeling.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’
420 W. Ave. 33
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Tickets are $15
For more information, visit www.unmasqued.org.

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Theater: CityShakes presents ‘Romeo & Juliet’

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Colin Martin begins the City Shakespeare Company’s production of “Romeo & Juliet” as Mercutio. SCREAMfmLondon

It was a hot summer night in Santa Monica, and the audience was pressed closely together on rows of wooden benches lining the either side of the stage — pressed even tighter when Romeo scooted us over in his efforts to hide from Mercutio and Benvolio at the Capulets’ ball.

Last week, the City Shakespeare Company concluded its latest run of “Romeo & Juliet” with a semi-modern interpretation of the classic story.

“Romeo & Juliet” is always, at first, the ultimate tale of rebellious teenage love against all odds. Until you get older and begin to recognize it as a valid example of why 13-year-olds should not be making important life decisions.

The CityShakes interpretation did an impressive job illustrating both perspectives of the story. David Hartstone and Megan Ruble are expressive and passionate as Romeo and Juliet; both actors had moments onstage where their true innocence (and irrationality, really) shone through. Likewise, the supporting cast (Gilbert Martinez as Father Laurence and Mallory Wedding as the Nurse in particular) represented the outsider’s “adult” perspective on the romance that ends in tragedy.

Wedding as the Nurse was perhaps the most entertaining part of the play. Her interpretation was unique and gave unusual life to a character I would have otherwise considered unremarkable. Wedding’s stylistic choices were really amusing as the Nurse toed the line between wise and ridiculous, serving as a big sister-like figure to Juliet and a solid contrast to Juliet’s youthfulness and naiveté. Wedding would make a great Polonius — just sayin’.

Although the playbill states that CityShakes’ “Romeo & Juliet” takes place “now” in “Anytown, USA,” there was only a little bit of evidence to support this. The biggest anachronism was Paris (Daniel Landberg), Juliet’s would-be betrothed, who still carried around a large sword strapped to his waist. As Paris is clearly the most oblivious character in the play, this only further emphasized how out-of-touch he is from his surroundings. So, it worked, whether or not it was actually intentional.

Immediately following the performance, the cast and crew held a Q&A segment for the benefit of the high school students in the audience, which was a nice touch. CityShakes performances are especially great for students, parents and teachers because they are more traditional adaptations with minimal sets and costumes, but the actors express clear respect for the original text, which makes the performances clear and accessible.

The size of the theater (such that I probably could have reached out and touched Romeo during his dramatic final scene in the crypt) as well as the size of the cast (only seven actors, most of whom played two or more roles) make the experience feel all the more like community outreach. And the City Shakespeare Company really is a great asset to the community — it continues to offer simple, relatable and charming adaptations of Shakespeare’s classics. I already look forward to the next one.

Theater: Nadia Manzoor, ‘Burq Off!’

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The colorful backdrop for Nadia Manzoor’s “Burq Off!” at Elephant Stages in Hollywood. SCREAMfmLondon

Against a multicolored backdrop of glittery silk fabrics, Nadia Manzoor magically transformed herself into 21 diverse characters for three sold-out performances of her one-woman show, “Burq Off!” July 17-19 at Elephant Stages in Hollywood.

The 90-minute show follows Manzoor’s life, beginning when she was five years old and wanted to become an astronaut but was rebuffed by her father (“Who will feed your husband if you are floating about in space?”). It culminates during her university years with a poignant scene in which Manzoor’s twin brother Khurram, who has become an Islamic extremist, tells her that her straying from the Muslim lifestyle is the reason their mother died of cancer.

The story aims to inspire self-exploration and self-expression through Manzoor’s own experiences trying to define and make peace with her identity as a woman and as a Pakistani Muslim living in London.

Manzoor, who wrote and stars in the play, does a remarkable job of embodying all of the characters in her life using only her voice, her body and a few transformative pieces of fabric. It’s really not a one-woman show at all; it’s as rich as if there were a dozen different actors on the stage. It’s impressive to see everyone, from her ultra-stern Abbu (dad) to her white classmates at an all-girls school in England and the Irish bartender she falls in love with while attending Manchester University, come to life despite the minimal presentation.

The performance was, at times, mildly amusing, although not quite as laugh-out-loud hilarious as some of the more gregarious audience members seemed to find it.

One of the most notable touches of “Burq Off!” was a parallel set of dance sequences during two pivotal moments in Manzoor’s life: the first time she wore a burqa in public and, later, the first time she stepped out in a bikini. Each garment was equally liberating for her in its own way — a freedom that could only be expressed through song and dance. Manzoor, who is also (apparently) a dancer, cleverly incorporated elements of Bollywood and hip-hop styles and combined them with her own comical delivery for very memorable musical asides.

The Elephant Stages theater excelled at designing a powerful and versatile set for Manzoor to work within and manipulate while telling her story. Just one table and a few chairs whisked the audience away to the dorm room in which Manzoor lost her virginity, the bar counter she vomited upon after getting drunk for the first time, the hospital bed where she last spoke to her Ammi (mom).

“Burq Off!” was a well put-together coming-of-age story and an honest examination of the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a conservative Muslim home. It’s not a perspective that is heard often enough in the United States, and Manzoor’s strong talent makes her an all the more effective storyteller.

Capsule film reviews: Four more foreign LGBT movies

‘Yossi & Jagger’ (Israel)
Release Date:
Aug. 1, 2002
Director: Eytan Fox
Starring: Ohad Knoller, Yehuda Levi and Assi Cohen
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Grade: A

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Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing.

This movie is great — it somehow manages to create vivid and multidimensional depictions of all of the characters (even the background ones) and their connections to one another, although almost the entire plot takes place over the course of a single day. The story follows Yossi (Ohad Knoller), a commander of a company of soldiers in the Israeli army, and his second-in-command officer, Lior (Yehuda Levi), with whom he’s having a secret affair. Lior is quite amusing and endearing, his full-bodied personality and passion for music earning him the nickname “Jagger” among his comrades. Yossi is more reserved and sensible, but their chemistry is obvious, and the film beautifully and succinctly captures the loving relationship between the two. Also impressive are the stand-out performances of Aya Steinovitz and Hani Furstenberg as the company’s two female soldiers who are individually finding their places in a male-dominated field. The 67-minute film is quick but undoubtedly touching and memorable.

‘Weekend’ (United Kingdom)
Release Date:
Sept. 23, 2011
Director: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Tom Cullen, Chris New and Jonathan Race
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

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Photo courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures/Sundance Selects.

I remember when “Weekend” was released because it was very much talked-about, and it is still just as good years later. In fact, it’s very refreshing and kind of remarkable in that it’s such a well-made, high-quality gay romance film that does not at all feature a gay panic as a plot device. Both main characters, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), are already well aware that they’re gay and are out of the closet when the story begins with them meeting in a club and going home together one Friday night. The film follows the slow building of their relationship as they spend the weekend together having meaningful conversations, taking drugs, riding bumper cars and having sex. It is bittersweet, though, because Glen is scheduled to leave for America the following week. “Weekend” is really a beautiful, captivating movie that is romantic and interesting. It’ll move you.

‘Undertow’ (Peru)
Release Date:
Sept. 23, 2009
Director: Javier Fuentes-León
Starring: Cristian Mercado, Manolo Cardona and Tatiana Astengo
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

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Photo courtesy of Axiom Films.

“Undertow” is a pretty well-executed, interesting romance — almost a fairy tale with its melancholic, supernatural twist and star-crossed lovers. It begins with Peruvian fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado) sneaking away from his pregnant wife Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) to carry on an affair with a reclusive painter, Santiago (Manolo Cardona). It’s a pretty standard storyline until you remember that this is supposed to be a ghost story: Santiago shortly drowns at sea and returns as a ghost that only Miguel can see. At first, they’re excited and try to make their relationship work, but then they realize that undead love triangles aren’t really any less complicated than everyday love triangles and aim to put Santiago’s body to rest. The story is unusual and enjoyable. “Undertow” does a good job characterizing the entire community and showing development throughout as the plot progresses. Some elements are more difficult to follow (the ghost thing, I mean), but it is, overall, a solid movie.

‘Guys and Balls’ (Germany)
Release Date:
Oct. 7, 2004
Director: Sherry Hormann
Starring: Maximilian Brückner, David Rott and Rolf Zacher
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language.
Grade: C+

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Photo courtesy of Regent Releasing.

“Guys and Balls” is both a goofy gay romance and a sports movie! It follows Ecki (Maximilian Brückner), who is the goalie of his small-town football team until his teammates discover that he’s gay and kick him off. After being ostracized in town both because of his sexuality and because of a big mistake he made that cost the team the game, he heads to the big city to put together an all-gay football team with whom he plans to beat his old teammates and redeem himself once and for all. A series of zany high jinks ensue, a lot of which rely on offensive stereotypes, but it all comes together in time for the climactic final scene at the big game. Ecki, at least, is a dopey but likeable character, and the movie is, overall, pretty silly, even though it does attempt to feature some serious storylines. It’s just okay, though.

I played 1Dreamboy (so you don’t have to)

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I didn’t expect to be quite so incensed upon my completion of this virtual game, but here I go with it anyway. The night I spent working my way through the 1Dreamboy universe is going to haunt me forever; I’m going to be deeply regretting the hours wasted on that bullshit game while I’m on my deathbed, wondering where my youth went, probably.

An eroge (“erotic game,” as it were) is a type of video game centered on sexual content. Gameplay is often in the style of a dating sim (“dating simulator” — that’s just how we’re talking now), where you move through the story making occasional “choose your own adventure”-type choices in the hopes of attaining a relationship with one (or many?) of the characters. Sometimes the characters are pigeons. Sometimes they’re aliens. Sometimes they’re Harry Styles. Japan is a creative place.

1Dreamboy is kind of like that: it’s a romance-driven online game, and the player’s objective is to marry boyband One Direction within 60 days. Natch.

I lasted about two minutes in the realm of 1Dreamboy version 1.0. They expected me to sit through full audio clips ripped from YouTube of the boys’ original “X Factor” auditions, and Simon Cowell kept yelling at me to go away. Nope. Not even for true love. I decided to peace out and try the updated version with slightly better graphics, which was released in May 2014.

The story starts off on the first day of school: my teacher announces that Harry, Louis and Niall will be joining our class for the semester, while Zayn and Liam hold down the fort at “1D Headquarters,” which already makes no sense at all, but whatever.

Niall is the only one who appears to actually attend school; Harry and Louis stand in the hallway and are exceptionally rude. Harry says “Who the hell are you?” every time I try to initiate conversation, while Louis seems to respond best to me acting completely unhinged. When I select “LOUIS! MARRY ME!” as an opening line from the provided chat options, his response is, “You’re crazy, but I like it!”

Yeah, alright, let’s go with that.

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The first step of the game is to get to know the characters a little better. Zayn takes me to “the karaoke,” where I have to actually enable my computer’s microphone and sing along with a sped-up, Muzak rendition of “Best Song Ever.” Harry makes me play the piano while he rehearses “Little Things” (this is not only a difficult task to execute using my keyboard, but I had to mute my speakers through it as well because that song is god-awful).

Then, shit gets weird. At one point, Niall leaves me alone with Justin Bieber, who has appeared solely to participate in this scene. Bieber suggests that we split up and search the town for Niall as if he’s a lost puppy. When I finally find him, I discover that he’s been kidnapped by the cast of “Mean Girls” for some reason, and I have to engage in fisticuffs with Regina George. Now that’s romance.

The next day, Taylor Swift shows up to confront me about my relationship with Harry. I really don’t have one — as I said, he’s mostly rebuffed my advances. But she also wants to fight. And she also kicks my ass. Afterwards, Harry shows up and confesses his love for me, which is really the only reasonable reaction to this kind of situation.

Little did I know, this would cause some tension between Louis and Harry. Back in their hallway at school, Harry accuses Louis of playing me. Louis — ever the ladies’ man — tells Harry off, so Harry takes a swing at him. After the fight, they both demote me back to “just friends” status and delete their numbers from my cell phone. Rude as hell, but probably for the best.

I decide to pursue Zayn instead. Once I’ve formed a rapport with him by asking “Vas happenin,” I can ask him on a date, at which point the game becomes incredibly boring. He asks me to describe myself, and I lose points for giving him the “wrong” answers to questions like “What’s your favorite color?” Well, alright, Zayn. Maybe I’m just a little distracted by the disproportionate head-to-torso ratio this game’s animators have given you.

I suddenly realize that I’m running out of time, but Niall won’t accept any of my marriage proposals, so I find myself at an impasse. Once my 60 days are up, the boys determine that I don’t love them enough, so they decide to skip town. It’s the most frustrating conclusion imaginable. I don’t love you enough?! I just spent the better part of my night completing word searches and buying bouquets of flowers for you!

Once I come up for air, it’s 11 p.m., and I have missed messages on my phone from real, actual people who are out doing things in the physical world while I’ve been immersed in the 1Dreamboy universe. I can’t believe these are the life choices I’ve made.

Drag roundup: Adore Delano, ‘Till Death Do Us Party’

Photo courtesy of Sidecar Records and Producer Entertainment Group.

Photo courtesy of Sidecar Records and Producer Entertainment Group.

Adore Delano is absolutely (absolutelyyyyy) the best singer who has appeared on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and “Till Death Do Us Party” is the most solid album released by any of the show’s alumni. Not that there’s much competition in that category. But, still.

It’s also become the most commercially successful album of any “Drag Race” alumni, for good reason.

And I’ve been slowly cobbling together this review over the course of the last month, so without further ado, here is my rundown of “Till Death Do Us Party”:

“Speak My Sex”

This honestly isn’t the best opening track. There’s not much to say about it — it’s kind of a nonsensical electronic dance song about sex or something. I’m not sure what it’s about. Skip this one. I usually do.

“DTF”

“DTF” is the album’s lead single, and, while it’s not the strongest song on the album, it’s a pretty good one. The languid, sensual beat complements Adore’s laid-back vocal style perfectly and reflects the unromantic casual sex celebrated in the song. “Paper bag bitch, busted in the face. / Got that bomb dick, not a total waste,” she declares. “DTF” has been called the Grindr anthem, and I can get down with that.

“Party”

The adorable music video for “Party” was released on July 1, featuring Adore and friends causing a ruckus at a neon pink birthday party. The visuals are so cute, I ended up enjoying the track a lot more than I initially did. It’s still a little bit of a disappointment, though, and seems like it was rushed through the songwriting process rather than giving it the consideration it deserves — particularly since “Party!” has become such a marketable catchphrase for Adore.

“I Adore U”

The album’s lead ballad “I Adore U” is simply extraordinary. I only wish the rest of the album incorporated Adore’s hip-hop influences as flawlessly as this song does. The melancholy love song allows Adore to show off her incredibly strong vocal talent on slower verses and a soulful bridge, as well as her trademark rough-around-the-edges persona with a rap chorus that is catchy, effective and modern. “I Adore U” is really beautiful and powerful; it deserves mainstream radio play.

“Calling All Goddesses,” “Jump the Gun,” “Give Me Tonight” and “The Creeps”

“Till Death Do Us Party” excels with its more personal songs — the rest is, unfortunately, pretty forgettable (if not fun and danceable) filler. “Calling All Goddesses,” “Jump the Gun” and, later, “The Creeps” are some of the more unremarkable tracks. “Give Me Tonight” is a cover of the 1984 Shannon single that’s, well, better than the original, at least.

“I Look Fuckin Cool (feat. Alaska Thunderfuck)”

This duet with fellow “Drag Race” alum Alaska Thunderfuck is one of the album’s best upbeat songs. It is highly weird, which is enhanced by Alaska’s exaggerated vocals, and it’s a great track to blast while getting ready to go out on the town. There are so many genius, quotable one-liners: “My nails are broke and busted, / But I’m still fucking dusted,” “Dirt poor but spirit wealthy, / Dead battery from selfies,” “So I’m like a coloring book, even a child could read me.” The list goes on. “I Look Fuckin Cool” is fuckin’ inspirational.

“Hello, I Love You”

“Hello, I Love You” is probably the best straightforward pop song on the album. On this track, Adore channels the same manic, ditzy persona that appears in “Party,” but the structure of “Hello, I Love You” is superior and the chorus is undeniably catchy. This is another song that could easily fit in with mainstream pop music.

“My Address is Hollywood”

“My Address is Hollywood” is one more standout track — a slower, harder dance song about show business. Adore’s heartfelt bridge is great, as she sings, “I’m a city angel, / but it doesn’t pay well. / Baby, that’s okay. / Heaven wouldn’t have me / ‘cause I’m all about me. / Hell, I’m on my way.” This is a very strong closing track for an, overall, quite legit album. I hope to see Adore do great things in the future. She’s got it.

Adore Delano
Till Death Do Us Party
Release Date: June 3
Genre: Pop, Dance
Grade: B-