Destiny of Desire (SCR)

fullsizerenderBoy was I excited to find out that playwright Karen Zacarías penned our most recent South Coast Rep show, Destiny of Desire! One of my very first “professional” theatre gigs, was Assistant Stage Managing the POP Tour at La Jolla Playhouse – an educational tour that brings a 30-min musical to dozens of schools throughout San Diego County every year. Karen wrote the 2011 edition, Frida Libre!

Destiny of Desire has the same quirky ethnic immersion that I enjoyed while working on Frida Libre. Zacarías tells a “prince and the pauper”-type story in telenovela fashion, which made for a highly entertaining night. Production value was high, as we’ve come to expect from SCR shows. The cast was strong – every character “likeable”, and every actor convincing. I will say that Ella Saldana North, who played the “pauper” sister, overacted…or overprojected? I felt like she yelled all her lines, which got old quickly. My only other complaints are that it was a little long for what it was, and that the space was much too big for the show. While I admired the set design and creative use of curtains and moving set pieces, it felt like the cast was constantly galloping across the stage. I’m sure this piece will get mixed reviews from the very white Orange County audience, but I definitely enjoyed myself!

PS Trevor was excited that the piece was directed by a UCLA professor, José Luis Valenzuela.

PPS I did just binge watch 2 seasons of Jane the Virgin…so maybe I was a little more primed to like the telenovela parody feel.

– Jerusha

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Macbeth (LA Opera)

img_5786I never know how I’m going to feel when we go to the opera. Operas are long. Really long for a weeknight. I have definitely fallen asleep before. I’ve been pretty polar about the operas we’ve seen – loving them or hating them. I was pretty sure I was going to hate Macbeth. After all, it’s Macbeth. Who hasn’t seen at least a few productions of Macbeth in their lifetime? So I’m pleasantly surprised to say that overall I really enjoyed myself!

It was quite a treat to see Placido Domingo in the title role (he was really moving around!), but the real star was Lady Macbeth, who stole the show. Her voice was PHENOMENAL and her stage presence was striking. It was also really fun to see such a huge cast on stage at the Dorothy Chandler, with approximately 70-80 voices coming at you. The witches were the best part of the show. They were very physical and helped advance the plot in a non-intrusive manner. The unit set was cool, with pieces that retreated to create difference scenes, and a bridge up top that often housed the chorus.

I was alert, invested, and totally present for the whole 3 hour performance…which for me, and opera, is a huge compliment.

The coolest part of all, is tonight’s performance was live-broadcast to over 10,000 people at the Santa Monica Pier and South Gate Park. AND we had seats dead-center of the orchestra (thanks Trev’s work perks!). It’s awesome that LA Opera created an opportunity to bring opera to the masses.

– Jerusha

A View From The Bridge (CTG)

Ifullsizerender-5 can’t think of another time I have heard so many different opinions of a production of A View From The Bridge by Arthur Miller. Some people LOVED it and others HATED it. I heard so many different polar that I wanted to see for myself how I would react to the piece.

The show is stripped down and minimalist, which is great and really shows off the brilliant writing of Arthur Miller. At moments of tension there is a drum that reminds me of kabuki theater. Some scenes are underscored with Greek chorus-type singing which really drives home the fact that this is a modern Greek Tragedy. With that said, I feel like there were more things I disliked than liked about this production.

I felt that Eddie was miscast. He is too good looking. The Italians don’t have accents which is fine, but only if no one has an accent. Eddie and some of the other characters had New York accents, which doesn’t work for me – if the Italians don’t have accents, then no one should have an accent. I thought some stuff was too heavy-handed. For example, at one point Catherine is drying the floor with a towel, but her skirt is short she is blatantly and repeatedly revealing her underwear (or as my friend Brooke said, “her vagina is hanging out!”). A little distracting to say the least.

There were a lot of things to like about this production, and I would love to see an Ivo Van Hoe production of All My Sons. But there were a lot of moments where it felt like a stereotypical high school production.

– Trevor

Jerusha: It was a rare treat to get to see this show with our friends Brooke and Alex – a little double date! It’s always nice to debrief the show after viewing, and hear everyone’s opinions, insights and perspectives. My interpretation of this production is that it was meant to view like you were reading the script. Hence the decision to give the Italians no accents and the minimalist design aspects. Having never read or seen the show before, I also thought the narrator’s stage direction-type lines also played into this.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (CTG)

IMG_5755.JPGI had my reservations about seeing August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom  because I didn’t think it was Wilson’s strongest work. I was on the fence about Phylicia Rashad’s direction after seeing her production of Joe Turner which was very good, but weak in some areas. This production blew us both away! The emotions and life that Rashad brought out of her actors was spellbinding. The story felt fresh and relevant even though it took place in 1927. Ma Rainey definitely raised in my ranks of Wilson’s Cycle.

This was Broadway level quality. You could take this production, move it to New York, and I guarantee Lillas White and Gylnn Turman would receive Tony Award Nominations. CTG does a wonderful job of bringing August Wilson’s works to life with their productions and Monologue Competition. Keep up the powerful work!

– Trevor

Jerusha: Fun fact, Trevor was once an intern for the August Wilson Monologue Competition program at CTG….awwww!

District Merchants (South Coast Rep)

img_5736District Merchants by Aaron Posner is a solid piece of theater. The last production that we saw of Mr. Posner’s work was The Tempest and it blew us away – there was magic that Teller from Penn & Teller fame helped create, live music that was written by Tom Waits, and even two dancers who played Caliban. So our expectations were very high for District Merchants and it didn’t quite hit it. Like all SCR productions, the sets and costumes are fantastic. The acting was superb and the highlight was seeing each of their monologues or asides to the audience. They gave us insight into who these people are. For Shylock, you felt sympathetic to a character who is usually portrayed as the antagonist. For other characters like Lancelot, you couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

To me the villain of the play was not Shylock, but the racist beliefs and world that they all lived in. Each character had varying levels of racism and it was interesting to see how that influenced how they interacted with one another.

The best parts of Posner’s Merchants is when the show deviates from the Shakespearean tale.  Having to stick to the plot of Merchants of Venice took the wind out of the sails for me. The show felt most alive when it deviated from the Shakespearean classic and went into uncharted areas. It was a little too safe for me, but I still enjoyed it. Get rush tickets so you don’t have to pay a “Pound of Flesh.” 😉

– Trevor