Layout Image

Archive for Steven Leigh Morris

ALL IS TRUE, or HENRY VIII by The Porters of Hellsgate

Sean Faye and Dawn Alden. Photo by Lucia Towers.

Sean Faye and Dawn Alden. Photo by Lucia Towers.

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw

Confession: In all my years of reviewing theater, this is the first production I’ve ever seen of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII originally titled All is True, co-written (somebody thinks, who knows?) with Shakespeare’s peer, John Fletcher. It’s the last history play penned or co-penned by the Bard, and it’s a bit of a mess, structurally, which is likely the reason it’s staged so rarely.

The play contrasts reckless and relentless ambition with the brand of conscience that embodies compassion. In this it echoes the same themes lodged within Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Richard III, Henry V and As You Like It. Read more…

Through December 5

KIM’S CONVENIENCE at Laguna Playhouse

Clinton Lowe and Yong Kim. Photo by Jackie Teeple.

Clinton Lowe and Yong Kim. Photo by Jackie Teeple.

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw

Born in the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival, Korean-Canadian scribe Ins Choi’s widely produced family comedy (spurring a spinoff sitcom on Canadian TV and Netflix) is a paeon to family. It clearly fills a hunger to reinforce embattled institutions (family businesses and family bonds), against children’s quest for independence, and also the pressures of gentrification — and it does so with a fair amount of wit and charm. Future productions of this comedy could likely be funded by any city’s Small Business Administration. Read more…

Through October 9

OKLAHOMA! at the Ahmanson Theatre

Sasha Hutchings and Sean Grandillo. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Sasha Hutchings and Sean Grandillo. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw

Composer-lyricists Rodgers and Hammerstein were Jewish immigrants to New York and understood very well both the American pressures of assimilation and the spurning of outsiders that culminates in the sacrifice of those who don’t belong. (The stream of victims is endless and ever-changing.) Their musical Oklahoma! opened on Broadway in 1943; central to it is the sacrifice, under dubious circumstances, of an outsider to the local community named Jud (Christopher Bannow) — a tragic thread in a musical that otherwise traffics in optimism. (“Oh, what a beautiful morning; oh, what a beautiful day. I’ve got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way.”) This was being sung on Broadway at the very moment the United States and its allies had prevailed in a war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Read more…

Tracey Paleo – BroadwayWorld

It seems everybody is having one of two reactions to Director Daniel Fish’s revival of OKLAHOMA! currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre. Love it or hate it, if you can make it to the second act, something extraordinary does happen. A gorgeous dream ballet that was formerly located at the end of the first act, is now performed exquisitely by Jordan Wynn. And it expresses the emotional life and soul of the entire story. Read more…

Through October 16

13 at Simi Valley Performing Arts Center

Mia Akemi Brown, Peter Umipig and Ethan Daugherty. Photo courtesy of Panic Productions.

Mia Akemi Brown, Peter Umipig and Ethan Daugherty. Photo courtesy of Panic Productions.

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw

This 2008 musical (with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, book by Dan Eilish and Robert Horn) is aimed at 13-year-olds and performed almost entirely by teens. (Netflix has just released a movie adaptation). The tropes within its theme of pre-adolescent angst — including its stock boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl again arc — somehow emerge here as something larger, approaching wisdom. Read more…

Through September 18

Dream Weavers – Puck and The Sandman

Azeem Vecchio, Syanne Green, and Malik Bailey in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Frank Ishman

Azeem Vecchio, Syanne Green, and Malik Bailey in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Frank Ishman

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw, Notes From Arden

At the northern edge of LA County, in Santa Clarita, The Sandman (played by adult actor Jackson Caruso) is the title character in Dane Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, “Ole Lukøje,” (“The Sandman”), presented by Eclipse Theatre and the Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival. Phil Lantis’s play for kids (and performed with kids), adapted from Andersen’s story and directed by Nancy Lantis, tells of this Sandman’s ability to send children to sleep (sprinkling their eyes with fairy dust) and deliver them dreams — or not. If they’ve been well-behaved, they receive pleasant dreams. If they’ve been less than well-behaved, their punishment is to receive no dreams at all. There are worse punishments, as the German Brothers Grimm had imagined, slightly before Andersen (severed limbs, baked in a witch’s oven, etc.), but perhaps that’s the difference between the Danish temperament and the Teutonic one.

Meanwhile, in the center of LA County, in Atwater Village, Puck (Monazia Smith, sly, impish and, at times, pissed off) sprinkles fairy dust into the eyes of any number of White Athenians (as in Athens, Georgia) in Open Fist Theatre Company’s adaptation (by director James Fowler) of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which Fowler sets in the American antebellum South, circa 1855. Without giving away the plantation, Fowler’s strikingly cogent concept is to endow slaves with cosmic powers (which become comic powers) over their mortal Athenian overseers — not unlike the way in which the slaves outwit their masters in their quest for freedom, in the ancient Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence. Read more…

The Sandman – through July 30

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – through Aug 13

COMPANY at Long Beach Playhouse

Photo courtesy of Long Beach Playhouse

Photo courtesy of Long Beach Playhouse

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw, Notes From Arden

When it debuted on Broadway in 1970, Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company (book by George Furth) rattled both social and theatrical sensibilities. Imagine having a boy-meets girls scenario where the boy, Robert (Cris Cortez), starts and ends the musical single. Why? He just doesn’t see the point of marriage and/or he’s unable to connect/commit. Psychotherapy meets existential ennui as another institution (marriage) bites the dust. Or is something else going on?

Robert, or Bobby as he’s frequently called, is a kind of theatrical cipher. Even Hamlet, still attending university (Bobby opens the play celebrating his 35th birthday) is far younger, more depressed and agitated than Bobby. Like Bobby, Hamlet waltzes through his play sabotaging his most intimate relationships, but at least the reasons for his behavior are evident, and he eventually does something about it. Bobby, however, just swirls among five hetero married couples, who each in their respective ways tries to get him to settle down, grow up and get married – as most people felt compelled to do 50-plus years ago. Read more…

Now through August 7

THE FUNNY MAN, Write Act Repertory at the Brickhouse Theatre

Sam Aaron in The Funny Man. Photo by Audaur Kountz

Sam Aaron in The Funny Man. Photo by Audaur Kountz

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw

Playwright Will Manus’s one-man homage to humorist and screenwriter S.J. Perelman (Sam Aaron) is a bit of throwback, and that’s a compliment. In a world as lunatic and partisan as ours, when the divide between evidence and superstition has melted across huge swaths of the country (strategically and cynically, some would argue), it’s not a bad idea to spin back to a lecture hall at U.C. Santa Barbara in 1976 and listen to a then-renowned wit describe his travels around the world, his philosophy of writing, and his associations with the Marx Brothers (for whom he wrote screenplays). Perelman was a frequent contributor to The New Yorker in the 1930s and 1940s (that gets short shrift in Manus’s play), and received an Oscar for his screenplay of Around the World in 80 Days (which gets longer shrift). He died three years after the lecture at UCSB that playwright Manus and Aaron fictionalize, under Judith Rose’s direction. Read more…

Now through July 17

4 SEASONS TOTAL SH!TSHOW at Asylum @ Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre – Hollywood Fringe Festival

Photo by Hiro Korsgaard

Photo by Hiro Korsgaard

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw

The extent to which we’re governed by amoral/immoral power brokers is now evident in surveys by the Pew Research Center and the Partnership for Public Service that Americans’ confidence in government to address our problems has plunged over the past decade across party lines. Only one in 10 Americans now has strong confidence in career federal government employees to act in the best interests of the nation — about the same, anemic percentage of Americans who trust that candidates running for federal office have any interest besides their own advancement.

So if you feel cynical and jaded, no, it’s not just you. And this is why it’s hard to laugh at political sketches on Saturday Night Live, or at comedy sketches such as 4 Seasons Total Sh!tshow, which is really a variation on the themes of a typical SNL political lampoon. Read more…

Now through June 25

GRIEF: A ONE MAN SHITSHOW at The Broadwater – Hollywood Fringe Festival

Photo by Rebecca Asher

Photo by Rebecca Asher

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw

“There are no words . . .”

This phrase is among the platitudes that writer-performer Colin Campbell excoriates in his solo performance about people straining to offer comfort in the aftermath of his losing his two teenage children in a car crash, on the other end of a drunk driver with already one DUI conviction who T-boned Campbell’s car. (Campbell was driving, and his wife, a fellow passenger, also survived.) There are in fact plenty of words, and Campbell has them at his disposal in his Spartan performance, directed by Michael Schlitt. “They’re in a better place,” is another. No, they’re not, he points out. They’re in a wooden box six feet underground.

There is nothing maudlin in Campbell’s colloquial, animated approach to what might be called an unimaginable horror, except that Campbell imagines it in detail, working through a multitude of aspects that accompany such heartbreak. Is losing a family so instantaneously better or worse than losing them slowly to cancer? Is it better to be present, to watch them die, as he did, or to learn about it through a phone call?
Read more…

Now through June 25

UNCLE VANYA at Pasadena Playhouse

Photo by Jeff Lorch

Photo by Jeff Lorch

Terry Morgan – ArtsBeat LA

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Technology zooms forward, but human nature remains stubbornly persistent. Thus a play such as Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, which premiered in 1899, can still speak to us today, can still cause us to laugh or cry at its characters’ folly or heartbreak. The new production of Vanya at the Pasadena Playhouse, featuring a powerhouse lead performance from Hugo Armstrong, is a clear and entertaining demonstration that humanity is the same regardless of the century it’s in. Read more…

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw, Notes From Arden

Hugo Armstrong Transforms Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Having been largely weaned on the plays of Anton Chekhov, and his turn of the 20th century mingling of regret and humor while something, always something, is ending (Chekhov wrote as the Russian Revolution was brewing), I admit to a trepidation in seeing productions of plays by the Russian literary giant, because they so rarely rise to their complex occasion. They’re usually suffocated by affectation of some kind – such as an obsequious devotion to kitchen sink realism, and samovars and wicker furniture, or, in American or British hands, an effort to invent what it means to be Russian in 1899; that rarely turns out well. Read more…

Now through June 26

SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM at Ophelia’s Jump

Photo by Randy Lopez

Photo by Randy Lopez

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw

Originally conceived and directed by James Lapine for a brief Broadway stint in 2010, this revue of Stephen Sondheim’s life and work received a new charge of pertinence in the wake of Sondheim’s death in November at the age of 91. The show includes a strong video presence of the composer-lyricist via interviews for the Broadway production plus prior interviews on various TV outlets. In many ways, these interviews are the show’s highlight, providing context for the potpourri of Sondheim’s songs across the spectrum of half a century of Broadway theater. Read more…

Now through June 5

 

KING LEAR at The Wallis

Photo by Jason Williams

Photo by Jason Williams

Steven Leigh Morris – Stage Raw

Shakespeare’s play gets a Wooster Group-ish makeover in John Gould Rubin’s modern dress staging for the Wallis. Tech is omnipresent, almost omniscient. Narrow, vertical panels on both sides of the stage provide screens for Keith Skretch’s projection design, featuring striking images of fires and floods now generally associated with climate change. Read more…

Tracey Paleo – Gia On The Move

After three years of preparation, The Wallis somehow made the decision to greenlight a befuddling presentation of one of Shakespeare’s most powerful plays and its chief character in the process.  The result is detritus. Read more…

Now through June 3