JANUARY 2013

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BOEING BOEING by Marc Camoletti | La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT by Stephen D. Giurgis | South Coast Repertory
NORA 'The Doll's House' by Henrik Ibsen adapted by Ingmar Bergman | Pacific Resident Theatre
WAR HORSE novel by Michael Morpurgo adapted by Nick Stafford | South Coast Repertory



Carter Roy, Amy Rutberg and Marc Valera in Boeing Boeing at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Tailspin

The hit TV show "Mad Men" recalls sexual politics in the early Sixties as a battle of wits between the suave and the glamourous. In Boeing-Boeing, a sex farce written back then by French playwright Marc Camoletti, the women have glamour but the men haven't a clue. The comedy is currently receiving an enjoyable revival under Jeff Maynard's direction at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (through February 10).

In 1960, when the play premiered in Paris, international airlines were growing stronger thanks to the increasing power of the jet engine. Growing with them was Boeing , then as now one of the most successful aircraft manufacturers in the world. But spreading with the airlines' expanding network of air routes were males' groundless fantasies about female flight attendants. Airborne service professionals, unlike the train porters who had served the previous century of passengers, were now predominantly women. For a long time, the women could only be young, shapely, and unmarried. Their males passengers naturally assumed that the flipside of their globe-trotting days was bed-hopping nights.

[Read how it was for flight attendants in the 1960s in an Old Globe program note for Boeing-Boeing.]

Michelle Azar, Carter Roy, Kalie Quinones, Melanie Lora, Rutberg and Marc Valera

Half a century later, Camoletti's three flight attendants are far from cliches. They have been deceived by caddish Bernard (Carter Roy), an American living in Paris, that each is his fiancé and that the bedroom they share with him is their private love nest. To ensure that the women pass like airships in the night, Bernard constantly studies the book of airline timetables. Making sure any telltale belongings of one are not seen by another is Bernard's overworked maid, Berthe (Michelle Azar). She is also the cook, keeping the menus cuisine-appropriate for American Gloria (Melanie Lora), a TWA stewardess, Italian Gabriella (Kalie Quinones), with Alitalia, and German Gretchen (Amy Rutberg), with Lufthansa.

On the day that his friend Robert (Marc Valera) arrives from Wisconsin, Bernard is just sending off Gloria and preparing for the return of Gretchen. Robert is envious. But this adolescent wet-dream come true is about to be doused by an Atlantic storm, and the revving up of a new generation of Boeing jets. No sooner is Gloria aloft, and Gretchen on her way, that Gabriella calls with news that her airline's new Boeing Superjet will get her to Bernard a day early. Then Gloria phones with the good news that she's back on the continent after bad weather caused her flight to turn around.

Fasten your seatbelts. As Berthe says in her best Margo Channing, "It's going to be a bumpy night."

The cast is appealing. Robert is at the center of the action, left by Bernard to explain why Gloria can't sleep in her own bedroom, why German Sauerkraut is on Gabriella's dinner plate, and why Bernard has suddenly disappeared.

Farce succeeds by a combination of precision timing, tension, and surprise. As often is the case, increasing the tension is done by increasing the volume. Fortunately, the women are unaware of Bernard's imminent nosedive, and not required to force the playing. Valera does what he can to keep it funny and real. Roy is quite good in his opening scenes, as he explains his greedy lifestyle to the impressionable Robert. He has the cool understatement of a Craig Kilborn working a proven monologue. Consequently, it's one of the most enjoyable sections in the production.

The women are all endearing. They manage to be beautiful objects of desire as they play to the best in Camoletti's portraits: independent despite being smitten. Most contemporary is Lora's Gloria, who is single-minded, liberated, and well ahead of her time. Even forced to play Gretchen as a slightly overbearing Hun cliche, Rutberg shows a great knack for the essentials of comedy – timing and innocence. Quinones Gabriella is also appealing.

As the traffic cop maid, Michelle Azar's Berthe manages to get her share of the laughs.

Boeing-Boeing has rebounded in popularity since a Broadway production starring Mark Rylance, Bradley Whitford and Christine Baranski became a Tony-winning smash. A recent production in San Diego brought the piece West. The La Mirada staging offers a chance to see what the laughing is about. Unfortunately, La Mirada has gone the course of mic-ing every actor, and that tends to homogenize the audio with a slight tinge, along with making the shouting even louder. How did theater producers survive when they had to rely on the acoustics of their halls?

 

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BOEING BOEING

by MARC CAMOLETTI
translated by BEVERLY CROSS
& FRANCIS EVENS
directed by JEFF MAYNARD

LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS

January 18-February 10, 2013
Opened 1/19, rev’d 1/23

CAST Michelle Azar, Melanie Lora, Kalie Quinones, Carter Roy, Amy Rutberg, Marc Valera

PRODUCTION Kevin Clowes, set;Helen Butler, costumes; David Weiner, Jean Yves Tessier; Joel Bessom, sound; Sarah Wolfe, hair/make-up; Lisa Palmire/Terry Hanrahan, stage management

HISTORY Original French play premiered in 1960, with the English adaptation staged in London two years later. That production transferred to the Duchess Theatre in 1965 and ran seven more years. The Guinness Book of Records listed it in 1991 as the world's most performed French play.


Marc Valera, Amy Rutberg and Carter Roy (top); Michelle Azar, Roy, Kalie Quinones, Melanie Lora, Rutberg and Valera (inset)
Michael Lamont
Larry Bates, Tony Sancho and Christian Barillas in THE MOTHERF**

Rhapsody in blue

Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Motherfucker with the Hat, at South Coast Repertory through January 27, is one of the most hilariously profane public services ever conceived. Not only does it give hearty, if comic, encouragement to the multitudes strung out between love and addiction, it proudly displays its parental advisory in its title.

To give the production additional social resonance, it is directed by Michael John Garces, Artistic Director of the "community-organizing" Cornerstone Theater Company. Though his cast fails to sound the full depth of Guirgis' layered comedy-drama, Garces keeps the 110-minute, intermission-less staging moving briskly and seamlessly, thanks in part to Nephelie Andonyadis' turntable set.

Guirgis infuses his writing with blue language the way great chefs use incendiary spices to both flavor their fare and wake up our senses. It serves the story. These characters are our fellow travelers, laden with the bad luck and bad habits that lead to circles of folding chairs and 12-step programs. Scattered among the scathing humor is plenty of useful information that could prove encouraging. Ultimately, however, it is more entertaining than illuminating. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Between lines of coke hidden beneath a man's hat and lines of expletive-laced phone conversation with her mother, Veronica (Elisa Bocanegra) straightens up her apartment. Boyfriend Jackie (Tony Sancho) does not notice the strange hat when he returns for congratulatory sex after a successful job interview. First, Veronica wants a shower, however, and we assume it's to rid her telltale of residue from the motherfucker with the hat.

When Jackie sees the hat, he immediately assumes it's another of Veronica's compulsive indiscretions. He finds a hidden bottle and heads for the council and couch of his AA sponsor, Ralph D. (Larry Bates). Ralph shares the apartment with a shockingly caustic wife, Victoria (Cristina Frias), whose incessant insults seem to only make his heart grow fonder. Jackie is soon heading for an AA meeting.

Or is he? We're next in the apartment of his cousin Julio (Christian Barillas), after Ralph and Jackie have arrived. Jackie has had a bizarre encounter after accusing a hat-wearing man in Veronica's building of being the motherfucker in question.

Guirgis will drive these five through a series of confessions, deceptions, and revelations that show how hard it can be to break the cycle of addictions sexual or substantial. This is the world of trial and recovery, perched on the slipperiest slope in God's green earth, where people have little more to help them than regrets and gumption.

All three male characters are veterans of these battles. Ralph has not had a drink in years. Cousin Julio proudly says, in flagrante innuendo, that he has put his sex addiction firmly behind him. Clean coming off a 26-month jail term, Jackie's wagon capsized only that morning. Only Veronica is resisting recovery.

The comedy-team interplay between Ralph and Jackie, as well as their confusion over relating and recovering, is displayed in this section of dialogue:

Victoria (offstage): You know what would be nice Ralph? If you dropped dead of a fuckin' coronary – that would be nice!
Ralph D. (to Jackie): Acceptance. See? My wife is the reincarnation of Benito Mussolini. What do I do? Acceptance. 449. Learn it. Live it. Be free.
Jackie: Yo, if Veronica spoke to me like that –
Ralph D.: Of, she don't speak to you like that?
Jackie: Nah, I mean, she does, but –
Ralph D. – Yeah, well, Victoria? Same thing. But the difference between Victoria and your girl is that Victoria is in recovery–

While the cast does well with the corrosive comedy, some fail at subtext that, for instance, would prevent some of the shouting matches from become circular dead-ends that feel endless. Guirgis makes the relationships tricky to understand, but the actors need the chemistry that perpectuates them. The sexual attraction–the stuff of addition–is missing.. Sancho is a solid lead who keeps us engaged. However, the more agitated exchanges with Bocanegra feel flat.

On the other hand, Bates and Barillas are outstanding, with Bates affecting an easy charm that suits his conflicted roles of uplifting sponsor and downtrodden spouse. Barillas benefits from the one role that is not part of a love affair. It is a great opportunity for an actor to swoop in and steal his scenes and Barillas makes the most of it. He'll have to guard against the natural temptation to milk it as audiences fall in love with Julio.

In addition to Andonyadis, the design team includes Lean Piehl, costumes, Tom Ontiveras, lights, and Bruno Louchouarn, music and sound. Edgar Landa does well with the fight choreography. The turntable and moving panels are all beautifully executed under Kathryn Davies' stage management.

Guirgis is a writer with muscle, great comic sensibility, and a heart that wants to present people in both an honest and humorous light. This is a fine mounting of the play.


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THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT

by STEPHEN ADLY GUIRGIS
directed by MICHAEL JOHN GARCES

SOUTH COAST REPERTORY

January 6-27, 2012
(Opened 1/11, Rev’d 1/12M)

CAST Christian Barillas, Larry Bates, Elisa Bocanegra, Cristina Frias, Tony Sancho

PRODUCTION Nephelie Andonyadis, set; Leah Piehl, costumes; Tom Ontiveros, lights; Bruno Louchouarn, music/sound; Edgar Landa, fights; Kathryn Davies, stage management


Larry Bates, Tony Sancho and Christian Barillas
Debora Robinson

Worth looking at

Nora, the woman at the center of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House and a pivotal female character for modern drama, returns to Los Angeles by way of Ingmar Bergman's stripped down adaptation, Nora. Dana Jackson's staging at the Pacific Resident Theatre continues through March 17, after several extensions.

Nora was one of three adaptations Bergman wrote and directed in 1981. Performed back-to-back during a seven-hour marathon at Munich's Residenztheater, "The Bergman Project" included Nora, Julie (based on August Strindberg's 1888 Miss Julie), and Scenes from a Marriage (based on Bergman's 1973 film of the same name).

Translators Lise-lone Marker and Frederick J. Marker interviewed the director for their 1983 Ingmar Bergman: A Project for the Theatre. They write that he saw the plays forming a dramatic triangle "in which women come to grips with the possibilities of sexual and social emancipation." His adaptations stripped away theatrical convention to see what he called "the tension that arises when men and women come together,". . . out of which "something positive can arise – but also something disastrous."

Jackson and designers William Wilday (set) and Noah Ulin (lights) evoke the original windowless room which Bergman likened to a courtroom. As the play begins, Nora (Jeanette Driver) sits alone. The minimal set pieces includes a sofa, chair, Christmas tree, and two dolls and their toy bed. Her children and housekeeper, speaking roles in Ibsen's original, are only mentioned in this adaptation. The four remaining characters wait, motionless in dim light, on chairs along the upstage walls.

It is Christmas Eve, and Torvald (Brad Greenquist) enters to reprimand Nora for her holiday spending. She reminds him that there will be plenty of money in two weeks, when he becomes bank manager. He dismisses her attempts at money management before their disagreement dissolves into cuddling–clearly their physical relationship is the eight-year marriage's salvation. Nora then slips out of his embrace for another of their rituals: jumping like a puppy for the Crown notes Torvald holds over her.

Three others will stop by this evening. First, Nora's long-absent friend Christine Linde (Martha Hackett) arrives seeking a job at the bank. Then Dr. Rank (Bruce French), an aged bachelor in failing health wants to spend what he says will be his last holiday with the flirtatious Nora, the only person he truly loves.

Finally, the unwelcome arrival of bank employee Nils Krogstad (Scott Conte) sets the play on its tragic course. Though never proven, Krogstad was accused of forgery and Torvald plans to dismiss him because of it. His request is ignored, but as he leaves he insists that Nora can change Torvald's mind. If she fails, Krogstad will tell Torvald about money she secretly borrowed from him.

Terrified of being exposed, she nevertheless is certain Torvald will defend her action, which meant forging a document to secure it. After all she only took on the debt to pay for the vacation doctors insisted would restore his health. But she fails to sway her husband and her secret is exposed.

To her amazement, Torvald renounces her, withdraws all affection and forbids her to raise the children. Greater concern for his reputation is inconceivable to her. Bergman added that they retire to bed–naked in the emptiness of the physical.

The Markers also wrote Ingmar Bergman: A Life in the Theater, in which they report that "Most critics saw in Bergman's production a Nora who, right from the outset of the play, was in possession of the insight that eventually prompts her to leave."

Credit Jackson and Driver for offering a Nora who appears flighty at first. Not a woman who is aware of her role and her husband's true priorities. Her reaction to his dismissing her is devastating. As if a trapdoor opened beneath her, sending her plummeting into the void, she crumbles, slack-jawed with incomprehension. It is a fine moment for the actress, and she carries it through to the moment Nora exits the Helmer house and female characters turned a corner–permanently.

Greenquist creates the kind of properly stiff Torvald who can say Nora is "worth looking at," and think it's high praise. Hackett's Linde is especially affecting. She is a woman worn down by years of bad luck, and yet something drives her mutely onward. French's diminished doctor is quietly hearbreaking.

Daniella Cartun designed the period costumes, Keith Stevenson and Elizabeth "Tiggy" McKenzie collaborated on the music, as well as sound design and choreography, respectively. Rick Garrison is stage manager.


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NORA

adapted for the stage by
INGMAR BERGMAN
from 'A Doll's House' by HENRIK IBSEN
directed by DANA JACKSON

PACIFIC RESIDENT THEATRE

November 10, 2012-January 27, 2013,
extended through 3/17

Opened 11/11, rev'd 1/12e

CAST Scott Conte, Jeanette Driver, Bruce French, Brad Greenquist, Martha Hackett

PRODUCTION William Wilday, set; Daniella Cartun, costumes; Noah Ulin, lights; Keith Stevenson, sound; Elizabeth "Tiggy" McKenzie, choreography; Rick Garrison, stage management

HISTORY Bergman first produced his adaptation of A Doll's House as part of Nora und Julie at Germany's Residenztheater in April 1981. It was a simultaneous staging of Ibsen's play, Strindberg's Miss Julie and an adaptation of his own Scenes from a Marriage. First produced in the United States at Pittsburgh Public Theater, February 1984.

Bruce French and Jeanette Driver

Well mounted

In the way Pixar revolutionized animation by anthropomorphizing toys, Handspring Puppet Company has advanced its art, and made animals into actors. Not since Jim Henson gave Kermit his arm have humans so successfully lent their life force to metal and fabric, wheels and cables, as Handspring has with the life-size beasts of Britain's War Horse.

Nick Stafford adapted Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel of the same name into a stage play for the National Theatre in 2007. Thanks to the uncanny puppetry–at once clearly mechanical and eerily alive–this tale of bravery and brutality in World War I is enjoying a globetrotting tour. This week it arrived at Orange County's Segerstrom Center for the Arts (through February 3).

What begins as an overproduced small-focus play with the sentimentality of Old Yeller or My Friend Flicka, will literally explode by the end of act one as a boy becomes a man and his horse becomes a hero in a spectacular depiction of the carnage and sacrifice of war.

Staged by Bijan Sheibani, based on original direction by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, War Horse is a theater spectacle at the intersection of three art forms. There's the adolescent appeal of the novel from which it sprang, the cinematic sweep to which it aspires, and the live stage event that continues its run at the West End's New London Theatre, four years after transferring there from a second mounting at the National.

After opening on Broadway in 2011, it won six Tony Awards® including Best Play and a special award for Handspring Puppet Company. It closed earlier this month. Also in 2011, a Steven Spielberg film was released which went on to earn six Academy Award® nominations including Best Picture.

In Devon, England, in 1911, Albert (Andrew Veenstra) falls in love with the colt his father, Ted (Todd Cerveris), bought at auction. The spirited horse, Joey, responds in kind, condescending to a plowing contest that wins a risky bet hard-drinking Ted makes to get his money back. But now Britain's war with Germany is ramping up and Ted goes behind his son's back, selling Joey to the army for a profit.

The enraged Albert is too young to enlist and accompany Joey, but eventually he joins up and shows rare determination to reach the front. Meanwhile, Joey, and another horse named Topthorn, are surviving a meat-grinding advance through France. Their drive to win gets them point position in a suicidal charge into the Germans. The horses – each operated by three people– and their riders race towards us, rearing at the last moment to leap over a coil of concertina wire. In a climactic blast of light, sound, music, and our disbelief, the first act ends.

After intermission, we see that Joey has landed safely on the other side of the barbed wire, but the British soldiers are decimated. In an about-face, Joey is dragooned into the German war effort until a deserting German Captain (Andrew May) secrets him away. They meet a French girl (Lavita Shaurice) and her mother, who help them until they are captured. When the German position is overrun, Joey is wounded. He hobbles to a field hospital where the same doctor treating Albert, temporarily blinded by tear-gas, says the horse should be put down. The head-bandaged Albert knows it's Joey, and intercedes to save him.

While the puppetry is the most prominent contribution to the play's success, the entire production is the height of stagecraft excellence. The graphic projections, simple in appearance but intricate in execution–are shone on a single screen in the shape of a jagged scrap of torn paper. Stretching well above the action, it cuts across the blackness of the open stage like the chipped tip of a saber, or a nicked piece of baleen's animated scrimshaw.

The "play," it must be said, is not the thing here. While we're swept along by the sound and fury of the staging, the limited range of the boy's story strains to provide sufficient drama. We're not going to open any snake cans to get behind the politics of the conflict, so we're left with a behemoth technical vehicle driven by the love of a juvenile for his pet.

Not surprisingly, one of the most dramatic moments is one of the most subtle. The puppeteers and costumers dress a squad of wounded soldiers to appear little more than walking corpses. As they file through a crowd of the soldiers who will replace them, their uniforms cannot cover the charred-black bodies. It's an unforgettable image that transcends the specifics of "the war to end all wars," and resonates through every era, to our own wars of collateral drone-damage a century later


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WAR HORSE

based on the novel by MICHAEL MORPURGO
adapted by NICK STAFFORD
directed by BIJAN SHEIBANI
based on original direction by
MARIANNE ELLIOTT and TOM MORRIS

SEGERSTROM CENTER
FOR THE ARTS

January 22-February 3, 2013
(Opened, Rev’d 1/22)

CAST Andrew Veenstra, Brian Keane, Michael Wyatt Cox, Todd Cerveris, Angela Reed, Jason Loughlin and Jason Alan Carvell; with Michael Stewart Allen, Danny Beiruti, Brooks Brantly, Laurabeth Breya, Brian Robert Burns, Grayson DeJesus, Catherine Gowl, Aaron Haskell, Mike Heslin, Jon Hoche, Mat Hostetler, Chad Jennings, Nathan Koci, Jessica Krueger, Nick LaMedica, Rob Laqui, Megan Loomis, Christopher Mai, Gregory Manley, Andrew May, John Milosich, Alex Morf, Patrick Osteen, Jon Riddleberger, Lavita Shaurice, Derek Stratton, and Danny Yoerges

PRODUCTION Rae Smith, set, costumes, drawings; Adrian Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company, puppet design, fabrication, direction; Paulie Constable/Karen Spahn, lights; Toby Sedgwick, horse choreography/direction; 59 Productions, animation/production design; Adrian Sutton, music; Christopher Shutt/John Owens, sound; Steven Ehrenberg/Eberg Stage Solutions, production management

HISTORY Premiered at the National Theatre, 2007; returned in 2008; transferred to West End’s New London Theatre in spring 2009. Bob Boyett and the National Theatre of Great Britain, lead producers; presented in association with Handspring Puppet Company


Andrew Veenstra
Brinkhoff/Mögenburg