Shirley Jo Finney

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“Heart Song” Stomps its Way onto the Fountain stage with Litte Enthusiasm

Published June 1, 2013 by mickala

Sitting down in the Fountain Theatre brings expectations. It is a stellar theatre that puts on high quality shows. Their current production holds even more anticipation with direction by Shirley Jo Finney (In the Red and Brown Water) and a script by Stephen Sachs (Cyrano). Though it is at times humorous and features some great dancing, Heart Song, fails to deliver that fully rounded, wow quality that the Fountain is known for.

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Heart Song brings us Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), an older Jewish New Yorker,  who is depressed, lost and mourning the death of her mother. What first comes off of as sarcastic wit and charm from the heavily accented Dunlap, soon becomes annoying and a bit pathetic. The play follows Rochelle as she is dragged to a Flamenco dancing class by her Japanese-American masseuse Tina (Tamlyn Tomita). Rochelle moans and groans the entire way there and throughout the class, refusing to try to dance and continuously insisting that she is too fat and old. We wait with anticipation for the moment where Rochelle sees the light, embraces the fierce, vibrant beats of Flamenco and releases her woes and negativity, however that moment never comes. Though she is constantly encouraged by her flamboyant, invigorating dance teacher Katarina* (Maria Bermudez, who also choreographed the play), Rochelle continues to resist and at one point flees the class all together, never to return during the remainder of the play.

The acting in this play is what you cling to. Dunlap throws herself into the highly emotional berating Rochelle. Bermudez is also powerful, and brings a wonderful ferocity with her dance moves and attitude as the vivacious dance teacher. Overall the acting and the dancing are the only true strong points of Heart Song.

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What this play lacks is focus and a true plot. We learn of Rochelle’s troubles and her disability to listen to anyones advise or to even empathize with their problems. We then learn of the hurt and pain in Tina’s past by her mother and father’s experience of meeting in a Japanese American Internment camp. We also learn of Daloris’ (Juanita Jennings) trouble as a breast cancer survivor, who tries to pick Rochelle up with her encouraging, life-affirming words and how Flamenco changed her life, yet Rochelle never seems to get it. At least not until the last five minutes of the play. For some reason, between the time the lights went down and up again between the last two scenes, what everyone in the cast had been trying to tell her for two hours had finally sunk in. What it actually had to do with Flamenco dancing, is not clear.

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There is no question that Sachs is a talented writer. He has an interesting core concept that a hurting, defeated woman has her life changed by Flamenco dancing. However that is not this play. What this play is exactly about is hard to tell. Yet, it is the Fountain Theatre, so though they might not have had a great script to work from, the choreography, lighting, stage design and casting is stellar. Unfortunately this “Heart Song” has no true melody.

** The role of Katarina will be played by Denise Blasor starting June 15th.

Heart Song runs Thursdays- Sundays until July 14th.

Taking the Reins at the Fountain is the cast of “In the Red and Brown Water”

Published October 28, 2012 by mickala

Chanting takes over the small space of The Fountain Theatre before the stage is even lit. The entire cast of In the Red and Brown Water comes onto the stage gleefully singing their song, chanting “Oya” over and over again. This piece is somewhat interactive, extremely funny and heart breaking all at the same time.

In the Red and Brown Water is the story of Oya (Diarra Kilpatrick) a young talented runner who chooses to stay with her dying Mother over going to college on a running scholarship. After her Mother, Mamma Mojo (Peggy A. Blow)  passes, the scholarship is non-existence and she abandons running, the one thing in life that made her feel free. She turns to the one thing a poor Louisianan woman is expected to do, raise a family. She becomes lost and desperate when she finds out she cannot have children. It is a  gut wrenching, but at times hilarious story about how sometimes one wrong decision can vastly alter the path of your life.

Tarell Alvin McCraney has written a unique piece full of dancing, singing, haunting story telling and enchanting characters. One part of the piece is extremely odd and something that is hard to describe in a way that brings justice to the technique. Throughout the play, the actors will turn directly to the audience, breaking that sacred third wall to tell the audience what their stage direction is. For example, Mamma Mojo is livid that the sleazy Shango (Gilbert Glenn Brown) is hitting on her precious Oya once again. Before she enters the scene she turns to the audience in a disgusted and infuriated tone and states “Mamma Mojo enters”. The effect is inspirational. We all know exactly how she feels before she even speaks a scripted line and we feel as if we are a part of it. It is like they are letting us in on their thoughts and feelings before the other characters get to know them. Glenn Brown makes excellent use of this technique with each of his exits and entrances, putting an exclamation point on just how sleazy his character is.

The entire cast has completely run away with this piece. They have made it their own and are obviously having a blast performing it. Blow is fantastic as the sassy and all-knowing Mamma Mojo, her facial expressions and use of stage directions bring you laughing to your knees. Kilpatrick is energizing and devastating as the hopeful and later hopeless Oya. Her enthusiasm and naivety will relate to anyone who has ever been young and full of dreams. She becomes lost and misguided after her Mother’s death and falls into the traps of young love and words filled with promises.

The direction of this show by Shirley Jo Finney seems perfect for this odd but electrifying piece. For the majority of the play all of the actors are on stage, off to the side, watching, singing, interacting with whatever is happening center stage. At some points actors even come into the audience and sit on the steps  of the aisles, bringing the theatre together, as if we are all involved with what is going on. The actors are fully energized from beginning to end, starting with a song and ending the same way, getting the whole theatre involved in their rhythmic clapping. The Fountain is known for their great performances, often providing fantastic plays with their Los Angeles premiere, and this piece is no different.

In the Red and Brown Water is in the beginning of its run which lasts through December 16th. It is a play many ages and personalities will enjoy and one that will provide a new experience. It is like nothing you have ever seen before and something that is utterly fascinating and highly entertaining. If you have not yet discovered the hidden gem that is The Fountain Theatre then this is the perfect time to do so.

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