The lights go down and the three piece orchestra starts in on a ridiculous romp of a tune, complete with slide whistles, bells and many of the classic sound effects one associates with slapstick and vaudeville. This overture sets the perfect mood for Ionescopade,a vaudeville variety-type show, derived from the work of Eugene Ionesco now playing at the Odyssey Theatre. It opens with a silent clown type narrator (Alan Abelew), who portrays the writer of the show. Abelew slinks throughout the show, smiling, and acting as a sidekick to many of the performers. Though at times his little acts are cute, the part is not really necessary and does not add anything to the show. The rest of the cast members, however jump brilliantly in and out of different characters as the scenes are always changing between vaudeville-esque song and dance numbers, to thought provoking sketches, to heart-rendering songs.
This type of show would fall completely flat if it was not supplied with an absolutely superb cast, but luckily this production is. Though everyone has their strong points, Tom Lowe steals the show, with his velvety voice, stellar dance moves and ability to jump in and out of each scene while not missing a beat. Lowe is often paired with the vibrant Cristina Gerla, who dances and sings her way into your heart, as her big eyes and contagious smile lights up the stage. A personal favorite part of the show, is brought by Andrew Ableson, when he sings the lonely smoky bar tune, “Madeline”. His voice is sublime, and in a song that barely gives room for breathing, he executes it flawlessly.
Though there are many different elements and subjects of the show, the underlying theme is based on war and the idiocy of leadership. Ionesco was a writer in post World War II France and he was one of the prominent figures for the Theatre of the Absurd. So many of his pieces are down right silly, yet some of them really challenge us to think and take a look at the world around us. Though written decades ago, the themes are still relevant today and many of the subjects we can all easily relate to.
Ionescopade was originally conceived by Robert Allan Ackerman, with music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden. This production has been slightly re-structured from previous versions by the director/choreographer, William Castellino, and he has done a stellar job. Quick paced, eye catching and strongly cast, this fun vaudevillian romp is sure to make audiences, laugh, ponder and applaud with sure delight.
Ionescopaderuns Fridays – Sundays with select Wednesday and Thursday performances through August 11th.
That strange, yet always dreadful toy/prank that jumps out at your unsuspecting soul and explodes in your face. It launches a range of emotions including anger disappointment and slight pleasure, because someone has cared enough to prank you. “The Snake Can” a new play by Kathryn Graf, now in its world premiere at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles, takes it name from this classic gag and covers many of the same emotions one feels when they open such a can.
The play stars Jane Kaczmarek from “Malcolm in the Middle” as one of three middle aged women facing the loneliness and unsureness that comes with relationships or lack there of. Kaczmarek and co-star Sharon Sharth bring depth and truly realistic emotion to their characters and their journeys. You can see them as real people just trying to keep afloat in the rough waters that is life. The men in the play are all rather enjoyable and complement their female counterparts well.
Where this play loses spark is in the direction and perhaps the writing. It is hard to tell the true nature of this play because the tempo was rather slow and the staging very awkward. The themes and characters in this play are charming and worth exploring, but there seems to be a missing link somewhere. The stage is a decent size and they use all of it, even though many of the scenes are very intimate and would probably benefit from a smaller setting. Director Steven Robman seems to be a little widescreen minded in his staging, which is a great distraction in this particular theatre and with this particular piece. During the past year I have noticed a newer fad of staging. Where the actors no longer just play to the audience but they truly face their fellow actors and play to them. I have liked most of what I have seen of this method, however it can turn deadly at times, which it did during this play. A one point Sharth stood with her back to the audience and if anyone was sitting in the vicinity (which I was) their view would be completely blocked of anything except her back. This did not add anything but it did in deed subtract from my overall experience of seeing the play.
Overall “The Snake Can” has its moments and since there are four more weekends in its run, there is still the possibility of upgrading to being a rather enjoyable play. It provides a few chuckles and a few touching thoughts and with a little tweaking of staging and faster pace it could do so much more. It is a great idea of a play, but in its current state it is not too much more than just an idea.
“The Snake Can” runs at The Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles Thurs-Sun through February 24th.
There are plays that make you cringe, there are plays that make you laugh, there are plays that confuse you utterly and make you feel like an idiot for not understanding it and there are plays that should just never have been written. There are also plays, that make you think about yourself, the life you led and the friends you lost along the way, all the while being presented by a stellar cast in a very well written and directed performance. “The Closeness of the Horizon” falls into that last category. Currently in its world premiere run, the Richard Martin Hirsch play is being presented by CoffeeHouse Productions at The Odyssey Theatre until June 24th.
Hirsch’s play opens with Paul (Bruce Nozick) reluctantly getting ready for his high school friend’s memorial service. Once he throws his tie away and yells that he is not going, a play unfolds that travels back and forth through Paul’s life tracing his friendship with the deceased Gary (Daniel Kash), revealing cracks and flaws and answers to many of Paul’s distressed questions. The content is very real, the story very familiar to anyone years beyond high school and it is told in a very convincing, realistic way.
Without a flaw in the cast, each character comes to life and could easily be someone you know. Kash’s performance as the dying Gary is so convincing you almost want to jump out of your seat and help him. Kash’s ability to be true to the character throughout the various stages of his life takes immense strength and talent. Nissa (Mandy June Turpin), who is distraught and yet relieved by her husband’s passing, is played to heartbreaking and realistic nuance. Her facial expressions and movement fill in what the dialogue leaves up for speculation. Her performance is easily matched by that of Nozick, whose Paul is angry, sad and confused by Gary’s passing. He is at a point in his life where he is no longer sure of anything. The entire cast is stellar and more importantly truthful. They make fabulous choices in presenting the teenage versions of themselves as well as the present day, grown-up and worn out versions of themselves. Their soul searching performances evoke audible reactions from the audience, upset, surprised or embarrassed for the characters by the situations they are in. The ability to do this is an extreme talent.
The cast is very experienced and they work well together. Because of this the theatre disappears and it is as if you are peaking in on an actual man’s life, which is an effect extremely hard to do in live theatre. The direction of this production has a lot to do with this achieved effect. Director Darin Anthony was with this piece from early on and the heart he must have for the material shines through in this production. Every part of the presentation fits the piece perfectly.
Now, to remain true to my tactics I would usually put in a few comments on how this show could improve, but honestly with it only being the second week of a month long run I think this production will grow by itself. Any tweaking that shall be done I will leave up to Hirsch and Anthony. This might very well by my favorite new work that I have seen this year and that is a big statement. If you have any chance to head over to The Odyssey Theatre before June 24th then by all means do it, I have a feeling that you will thoroughly enjoy this piece.