Tag Archives: theatre

Theater: Shakespeare OC presents ‘Pirates of Penzance’

Alex Bodrero (The Pirate King, foreground) with Max Black and Nikolai Fernandez (immediately behind him) in Shakespeare Orange County's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, September 10-26, 2015. In background, left and right, are Jacob Lansberg and James Quesada. Photo by Amelia Barron

Alex Bodrero (The Pirate King) with Max Black and Nikolai Fernandez in Shakespeare Orange County’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” Photo courtesy of Amelia Barron

To close their summer season, Shakespeare Orange County cordially invites the audience aboard the goofiest opera-singing pirate ship around with a uniquely intimate production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Director Peter Uribe, whose background in rock operas includes a six-month tour of the UK working on a Pete Townshend-approved production of The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” said he hopes to infuse Shakespeare OC’s debut musical with this kind of energy.

“The kind of mantra we live by is, ‘This is not your great-grandmother’s Pirates of Penzance,’” he said. “A big fight scene happens that’s kind of an homage to The Who and ‘Quadrophenia.’ We have a sound cue: at the count of four or five, the lights all go out, and it’s just Roger Daltrey screaming at the apex of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ The lights just go black, that all happens, the lights come back up, and the fight’s over.”

“Penzance” is more of a comic opera that is best known for one specific song (“I am the very model of a modern major-general, / I’ve information vegetable, animal and mineral,” etc.), but Shakespeare OC hopes to show Southern California theatergoers how entertaining it is in its entirety. Because the 1879 opera is now in the public domain, the cast has had more freedom to reshape the material for today’s audiences.

“We’ve thrown in every gag we can,” Uribe said. “While we’re pretty faithful to the script, I encourage the actors the entire time, ‘Any time you see a space for a joke, improv a joke. If it makes me laugh three times in a row and it’s somewhat appropriate, it can stay in the show.’ It’s been kind of fun to work fast and loose with the script.”

The opera’s storyline follows Frederic, a 21-year-old who has just completed an apprenticeship aboard a pirate ship. However, as Frederic is preparing to be on his way (hopefully alongside the Major-General’s beautiful daughter Mabel), the Pirate King discovers a loophole: because Frederic was born on leap year, he won’t technically turn 21 for many more decades and has to rejoin their crew.

Alex Bodrero, who plays the Pirate King in Shakespeare OC’s production, said he’s enjoyed combining elements of serious opera with the comedy of “Penzance.”

“This is probably the most classical singing I’ve done in a long time, despite it being such a crazy, off-the-wall show,” he said. “It’s an interesting dichotomy. It’s got that legit thing while having fun like you’re on the playground in elementary school.”

For “Penzance,” Shakespeare OC decided to make the most of the expansive Garden Grove stage: instead of utilizing all 500 seats in the amphitheater, they will include audience seating right there in the midst of it.

“I don’t think people know what to expect when they’re going to come see this,” said Nikolai Fernandez, who plays Frederic in the production. “What’s exciting about that is you’re going to have audience members who are uncomfortable and look away when you’re trying to talk to them and invite them in, and you’re going to have audience members who want to, like, jump up and be a part of it when you give them that permission.”

In recent years, Shakespeare OC has been working to make classic theater productions more accessible to the local community. Earlier this season, a production of “Romeo and Juliet” staged its famous ball scene as a traditional Mexican quinceañera, and the Montagues delivered their lines in Korean. Uribe hopes “Penzance” will prove that musical theater also has a place in the OC.

“The stigma is that in LA, everything is better, but [Uribe] really brings a lot that you won’t find anywhere else to the theater,” Fernandez said, “and I think that’s a huge reason why I decided to commute down here two hours every day to be a part of it.”

‘The Pirates of Penzance’
12762 Main St., Garden Grove, Calif.
7:30 p.m. Thursday – Sunday through Sept. 26
Tickets are $20
For more information, visit www.shakespeareoc.org.

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Theater: Eric Rudnick, ‘Day Trader’

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The Bootleg Theater. SCREAMfmLondon

“Everyone knows a career in Hollywood is a gamble, and this play asks if people can ever come to grips with the fact that a large part of gambling is losing,” playwright Eric Rudnick is quoted as saying in the playbill for the Bootleg Theater’s current production of “Day Trader.”

The play is expertly staged, using sound bites of Mo Gaffney’s soothing narration from a how-to book on day trading to break up the scenes. The ongoing theme of day trading (the buying and selling of financial instruments before the market closes for the trading day) mirrors the plot of the play as unhappily married screenwriter Ron (Danton Stone) uses his family and friends as bargaining tools in an attempt to score a fortune from his wealthy wife and, thereby, make himself finally feel meaningful.

The Bootleg Theater makes excellent use of the space, projecting elements onto the minimal backdrops and revealing a jazzy drummer (Josh Imlay) to accompany the narration during scene changes. Although Ron’s wife Brenda never makes an onstage appearance, her presence is still felt through the shadows in the background and the snippets of Shakespeare she leaves for Ron to discover at opportune moments, foreshadowing the development of the plot (“A little more than kin, and less than kind”).

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Particularly impressive is the performance of 14-year-old Brighid Fleming as Ron’s daughter Juliana. While the audience sees her deal with the dissolution of her parents’ marriage and crave a better relationship with her father, in true Hollywood fashion, we also see that she is smarter and more capable than anyone anticipates.

Ron has long been yearning for a way out of his marriage, but, as per his prenuptial agreement, he is unable to file for divorce without forfeiting the share of his wife’s fortune to which he would otherwise be entitled. When he meets a beautiful young waitress/aspiring actress named Bridget (Murielle Zuker) who wants to help him get his hands on the money (and is willing to accompany him on overnight trysts in Solvang), he thinks his luck is finally turning around.

The plot is exciting — particularly in the final act, wherein the characters show their true, twisted, morally corrupt selves. The resolution is delightfully cynical and entirely satisfying.

And, moreover, the Bootleg Theater is impressive. It’s an interesting space that hosts a number of art events, from dance and theater to live music and spoken word. The set designers and stage managers are clearly very talented. It will definitely be worth checking out what they come up with next.

‘Day Trader’ at the Bootleg Theater

2220 Beverly Blvd.
7 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 16
General Admission $25
Students & Seniors $20
For more information, call 213-389-3856 or visit www.bootlegtheater.org.

Theater: ‘How to Be a Rock Critic (based on the writing of Lester Bangs)’

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This is a captivating photo of the set and also an illustration of my photography expertise. SCREAMfmLondon

A crowd of bourgeois baby boomers filled a rehearsal space upstairs at the Center Theater Group’s Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City on Sunday night for a one-time performance of “How to Be a Rock Critic (based on the writing of Lester Bangs).”

The performance took place two days after what would have been Bangs’ 65th birthday had the seminal rock writer not died of an overdose of Darvon, Valium and NyQuil at the age of 33.

To capture his spirit, the theater group condensed some of Bangs’ drug- and alcohol-fueled musical and cultural analyses into a live performance. “How to Be a Rock Critic” is a one-man dramatic monologue propelled by Erik Jensen, who starred in the show and, along with his wife Jessica Blank, pieced it together from thousands of pages of Bangs’ published and unpublished work.

The stage was set with two desks — one holding a typewriter and the other a record player — with a music-stand-as-podium in the middle. Jensen stumbled onstage carrying a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a paper bag full of records to begin his performance, most of which was read from a three-ring binder and interspersed with music clips, real (I think) gulps of PBR and imaginary sips of cough syrup.

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The monologue drew from a wide range of Bangs’ pieces, from his iconic album reviews to his more autobiographical and philosophical pieces. Using an encounter with the Clash as an anchor, the 80-minute performance attempted to illustrate the ups and downs of Bangs’ life as a rock critic and music fan, as well as his questions and beliefs about the general state of the being.

Throughout his encounter with the Clash, Bangs becomes enamored with the revolutionary music and the band’s connection with its audience, and then grows increasingly disenchanted as the experience wears on. This narrative arc is paralleled in many of the other featured stories. His introduction to rock ‘n roll music while growing up a Jehovah’s Witness (he found The Troggs’ “Give It To Me” particularly moving) was followed by a career of disillusionment as he saw first-hand the egotism, corporate control and hero worship that pollute the music industry. His life-affirming work as a full-time writer for “Creem” magazine ended sourly as the issues that polluted rock ‘n roll inevitably polluted rock ‘n roll journalism.

What he really captured was the true ebb and flow of things: the fact that a lifetime will include innumerable occasions of losing then regaining hope, then losing and regaining it again.

The lasting quality of Bangs’ first-person music writing proves that real entertainment journalism transcends re-writings of press releases from record labels and instead serves to connect with readers — music fans — about the way rock ‘n roll speaks about our lives, about society, about the music industry and tells the world how we feel about greater theoretical concepts such as love and life and death and hope.

It was exciting to see this existing onstage for a brief period of time, and I wish it could have been given a larger platform or a longer run.

One of the writings selected to play into Jensen’s performance is a review of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” which is often considered the greatest album review of all time by the kinds of people who tabulate things like that. In the review, Bangs characterizes a 1970 televised live performance of “Cyprus Avenue” at the Fillmore East, saying, “It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it’s sensational: our guts are knotted up, we’re crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we’ve seen and felt something.”

Onstage, Jensen thrashes and shouts along with the audio track, using the space, his body and the music to convey the feeling behind Bangs’ words. On another occasion, Jensen passionately thrusts his pelvis into his typewriter. Although stumbling over his words on a few occasions, Jensen nonetheless effectively made more than an hour’s worth of reading aloud of complicated essays and articles seamless and watchable.

The worst part of the experience was the decrepit audience, who verbally(!!) announced song titles they recognized, tapped their feet and snapped their fingers in efforts to loudly ensure that everyone else knew that they were still cool and still knew how to rock ‘n roll.

But the “How to Be a Rock Critic” experience was altogether a good one. I left feeling a little recharged — confident that there will always be some great music to listen to and some great conversations to have about it. Bangs’ writings remain spectacularly amusing and relevant, even now (especially now, perhaps) that a culture of illegal downloading threatens the foundations of the album release and the steady decline of print journalism changes the way the public consumes media.

Regardless, one thing is certain: rock ‘n roll, of its infinite permutations and expansions, will find a way. And where there is music, there will, of course, be fans… and critics.