PLAY BALL!!

      Well, it’s that ol’ time of year where spring fever comes to play. And it isn’t just the warm(er) weather taking its mark. It’s the event where in good ol’ American spirit the pitcher reaches the bag, the bases becomes “manned”, and the batter heads over to the plate as the first ball of the game is thrown as the crowd roars!
     Yep! It’s the start of Baseball season where for many of its loyal and perhaps diehard fans, it’s the only sport played that really matters!
     For generations, it’s been called “America’s Pastime”. It’s just as American as…America! Many nations around the world see this game as a part of the American portfolio. It’s been also part of the media landscape for as long as it’s been connected with USA values (so to speak!) Out of the many sports based movies that’s been around within the last 100 or so years, baseball pics seem to have the biggest grab. There are some great baseball movies that’s been made and released from The Pride of the Yankees, to The Natural, while other titles won’t live to what the game is all about as many of them are pretty bad! (We won’t list those baseball movies that struck out, but if you insist in going into extra innings, just visit you favorite search engine and type “bad baseball movies”, and see the selection for yourself!!)
     But the real thing about this game is the overall support of the fans that make the teams just what they are. Out of the many professional sports that’s made available, baseball games tend to become the most family friendly. Many teams offer family and group packages where for a subscription rate, what’s offered are a group of tickets set within the same area with concession packages to boot. Many baseball parks offer alcohol free sections where people can sit in an area where no beer is sold. These people that place themselves in these area have little fear of sitting near rowdy fans that may have had too many cups of suds! And there are the promotional days and nights, where the first so many fans can get items from bobble head figurines to vinyl tote bags to whatever premium is currently promoted. And there’s camera day where before the game, fans can snap pictures with selected players up close near the edge of the field. Although such promotions have been around since the 1960’s where those fans taking pics would place those print photos in albums, many of them today upload images to their Facebook pages or via their Snapchat accounts.
      Of course, unlike the other pro sports such as basketball, hockey, and the leader in fan following, football, baseball holds a totally different vide to the sprit of the game. Between this week well into early October, there will be a game played somewhere every day of the week. Pro football limits their games to Sundays and Monday nights, with an occasional Thursday night and a Saturday during playoff season mostly. Hockey and basketball also plays more often, usually in the evening and maybe for a Saturday/Sunday matinee. But baseball is all over the place. The TV sports channels from Fox Sports, the ESPNs, and some regional networks will present games to fill every monitor found in a quality sports bar.
      And out of the “big four” sports games, baseball is the only game where the action isn’t played against a clock. Games can last as little as an hour an a half, and can go on for multiple hours at a time depending on how the action is played. It’s also more on a leisurely pace. However, one can state in spite of the casual pacing, there is indeed “action” to be seen. There are some thrilling moments taking place at just about every game. (ESPN’s Sportcenter provides all of the highlights!) Then again, there are a lot of dull moments as well, so everything balances themselves out!
     So as springtime makes its move, so will the players donning those pinstripe suits as the ump yells “play ball”! And even if you aren’t so much of a diehard fan, watching a game or even following up on one’s fantasy teams just becomes another part of the American landscape for the season! Just wolf down that Dodger dog and have fun! And don’t forget to root, root, root for the home team, ‘cuz if they don’t win……
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                                         NEWS AND REVIEWS
          Making its world premier at The Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks is Andy Rooster Bloch’s black comedy STELLA’S LAST J-DATE, a mini saga of two people on their first date and the man that settles the fate on their possible future with one another.
     Taking place in an upscale cocktail lounge somewhere in Manhattan, a meeting is about to occur between two seasoned and supposedly single people on their first date. Isaac (Barry Livingston) and Stella (Amy Smallman-Winston) met online at J-Date, a matchmaking website aimed for those that are of the Jewish persuasion. Although their meeting is well meaningful, these two are not free from any “baggage” they have acquired over their many years. Isaac, an elementary school teacher by trade, had been known to engage in some excessive drinking–or so he will admit! Stella on the other hand, has her issues and clearly shows many of them off to her would be suitor. Within minutes of their meeting, she admits that she’s hypersensitive, has a case of ADHD, suffers from low self esteem, and can’t seem to train herself. The irony to her lack of control is the fact that she is an animal trainer. She can make a dog sit and stay. But when it comes to herself, that’s a whole other matter! While Stella excuses herself from their table at the lounge, another figure enters-a man known as Don. (Elvis Nolasco). Don is dressed as a character that could have stepped out from a 1970’s-era action packed urban B-Movie, and carries the same attitude. Don appears to know more about Isaac diving into his deep past. (What really did happen with Isaac in Washington DC all those years before?) And who (or what) is Don? Is he a guardian angel? Is he a conscience? Is he a street “player”? And how did he get to the location? (Did he drive his Cadillac Eldorado convertible to get there?) It’s an evening that consists of a date from hell with a devil of a man serving as host!
      This one act play by playwright Andy Rooster Bloch is a standard takeoff of an awkward situation by a couple old enough to be grandparents meeting on a date that seems to end before it begins while throwing a mystifying twist. In a so-called real life, the secrets the two lead players possess would be somewhat tragic and would count as something that is far from being comedy relief. Since this play isn’t a slice of reality or doesn’t totally depict one, the pitfalls presents just gets funnier by the moment! Amy Smallman-Winston as Stella plays her role as a neurotic “train wreck”–the kind of character one would find in a post modern TV sitcom. Barry Livingston as Isaac is more subtle but far from being free from personal tarnishes. Barry himself has previous played in such wholesome TV sitcoms such as The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet to his best known role as “Chip” on My Three Sons, depicting a time where domestic TV families were picture perfect, and single parents were always widows/widowers! Perhaps the most outstanding character is Don, played by Elvis Nolasco. His outfit designed by Morgan DeGroff consist of a silk shirt, a leather mac coat, and a fedora that makes him look “bad” (as is “bad motherf*ker”), with an attitude to match! One isn’t quite sure if Don is the real hero or villain in this tale. However, his presence will seal the fact if Stella and Isaac will part ways or wind up in the sack before the night is out!
     And to other visuals. Bryan Rasmussen takes a page from the “less-is-more” method of set design offering a table and chairs for the two daters to sit, and David Svengalis provides the sound and video design. Rather minimal as well, but just as important to establish the scene depicted.
     STELLA’S LAST J-DATE holds plenty of comical episodes and the laughs that go along with ’em. This play should not be necessarily used as an example for those well seasoned folks out on a blind date to expect. Then again, one can’t admit that this first date wasn’t dull or boring. After all, all’s fair in love and war. Just make sure that closet one keeps their skeletons in is in order!

     STELLA’S LAST J-DATE, presented by and performs at The Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd (at Sunnyslope), Sherman Oaks, until May 5th. Showtimes are Thursday nights at 8:00 PM. For ticket reservations or for more information, call (818) 990-2324, or via online at http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com
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     Theatre Palisades presents George Bernard Shaw’s MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION, a dramatic play that centers upon a mother-daughter reuniting, and the daughter’s discovery of the background of her mother that beckons toward a resource that is  somewhat dubious in nature.
     Taking place in a country estate in England a few years into the 20th century, Vivie Warren (Jenna Tovey), who just completed her education at Cambridge with a “degree” in Mathematics, has come home to her mother Kitty (Sue Hardie). Although gone for many years, Vivie has been privileged to have lived her life in her many means. With a spirit of total independence as well as being educated in a high standard, her social class has been set for her through her mother’s business ventures. However, Vivie never learned just what business she was involved in. And although her mother Kitty holds a title of “Mrs.”, she is not married, although she had her share of suitors in her past. Presently, she in involved with Frank Gardner (Brooks Barnell). At one time, she has an affair with a married gentleman, the Reverend Samuel Gardner (Ken MacFarlane), Frank’s father. Vivie may have been a result of this relationship, being born out of wedlock. And to what was the business that Kitty made her earnings? She, along with her business partner, Sir George Crofts (Frank Kruger), operate a sting of brothels across the continent, as Kitty was at one time a “lady of the evening” who moved up the ranks from “working girl” to “madam”. And although Kitty has arranged a meeting with Vivie and Mr. Praed, (Craig Jessen) an architect, as a possible suitor, Vivie holds true to her rather independent and feminist sprit. This is a rather intense story that calls for social class, morals, and the roles that men and woman have played within its society.
    This play written by Shaw in the early 1890’s and first presented c. 1902, was indeed shocking at the time that spoke upon consequences that were indeed questionable, from the profession deemed as the “world’s oldest” to the placement of woman in British society at the time. Over time and tide, its so-called shock value was later accepted (so to speak), and became a play that was more freely performed without any threat to be deemed as unmoral. However, it did address issues that were not necessarily accepted, from prostitution to conceiving children out of wedlock. Some 100+ years after the creation of this play, it is now accounted to be one of Shaw’s finer works. And akin to his other stage pieces, there is plenty of dialogue spoken by its cast: Mostly as drama, but it does hold traces of the playwright’s unique style of wit. As with this production as presented by Theatre Palisades, the team of its six players blend together as one robust ensemble. The two leads, Jenna Tovey as Vivie and Sue Hardie as Kitty show their strength in terns of performance and character. Brooks Darnell as Frank presents his leading man persona style, speaking his vocal tones in a firm British mode. Sabrina Ann Lloyd directs the cast that holds more speaking lines (as expected in a Shaw play) than physical action. (The dialogue carries the play throughout its four acts!)
     Sherman Wayne, Theatre Palisades’ resident set director, designs a set that uses minimal pieces and furnishings. This “less-is-more” method of set design gives more space for the performers to present their scenarios toward one another that a Shaw play demands. June Lissandrello provides the costuming that speaks for the period portrayed.
     There are many notions that this piece harps upon that mirrors the period this play was first presented in connection to what is experienced today. Granted, the theater won’t be the subject of a raid by any vice squads as once occurred in Shaw’s day, but does hold out in terms of the issues expressed. It is darker in nature, but still holds an impact. That impact continues to showcase itself.

     MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION, presented by Theater Palisades, performs at the Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road (off Sunset Blvd.), Pacific Palisades, until May 8th. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM, and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. For more information, call (310) 454-1970, or visit online at http://www.TheatrePalisades.com
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     The Robey Theatre Company presents Charles Gordone’s NO PLACE TO BE SOMEBODY, an urban drama about a tavern owner in New York City and the city people who parade in and of the bar holding their personal slates as well as fulfilling a very definitive role and purpose.
     The year is 1969, a time where the civil rights movement is still within its turmoil with its cry of “Black Power”. Sammy Wayne III plays Johnny WIlliams, a man of color who is the proprietor of Johnny Bar & Grill located in Harlem. Johnny is aware of the urban life found around New York, a city that is becoming gritty with its style of vice. Johnny himself manages two streetwalkers, Dee and Evie. (Allison Blaize and Saadiqa-Kamille) as they pass through the bar between their turning tricks. Johnny’s employees consists of three that strive to be something outside of bar staff; Melvin (Matt Jennings) as a ballet dancer, Shanty (Ben Landmesser), as a jazz drummer, and Gabe (Leith Burke), as a writer, actor, and poet. His prose speaks for the blight of the Negro that has been going on since the days of slavery, but beckons much louder in the current decade. Johnny himself has his own dramas outside of running a bar north of 110th street. He wants to be a “player” of sorts, running a black Mafia. He befriends a young white woman, Mary Lou Bolton (Meghan Renee Lanf), whose father is a city judge that may be his key to blackmail the local mobsters who runs the upper part of Manhattan, including the “Black Mecca” called Harlem. Adding to this blend is the return of Johnny’s mentor, Sweets Crane (Hawthorne James), who has just been released from prison after serving his time. He came out of the joint somewhat broken and physically ill, but still holds his ambition into getting ahead in the world.
     This play by Charles Gordone was written in the late 1960’s with the civil rights movement for American Negroes (the term for this race of people used during the era) was flaring up. Not only was this play a success for playwright Gordone, it became the first play written by somebody that wasn’t white to win the honorable Pulitzer Prize in 1970. The reasons for such was for its candid look at the issues that blacks were going through, and to have its characters use strong street language, a notion that very few plays of this magnitude ever attempted. Some 45+ years after the fact, although the cussing used isn’t as shocking as it once was, the conflicts and dialogue still holds up with plenty of power and impact. In this play, the ensemble cast of players all work well with one another. Its lead, Sammie Wayne IV, portrays his character Johnny as a firm street savvy soul that keep up with his emoting while hinting an exercise of anger and aggressiveness. This emotion is though the cross between the majority race (whites) taking control of progress and advancement, and the fight for basic survival for blacks where the only skills to gain ahead is through acts of crime.
     Also appearing within the cast is Kacie Rogers as Cora, a back nurse and civil rights activist who desires to live a life free from the bitterness held on by the people of her race. Gianluca Malacrimo appears as Mike Maffucci, a mob Mafioso, Darrel Philip as Judge Bolton, the father of Mary Lou, and Ray Dennis as Machine Dog, a mechanic that lives in and through the surreal mind of Johnny. This entire roster of caricatures speak for a time where urban plight was falling into its tailspin, and the divide between the black person and its white counterpart was getting wider.
     What makes this presentation quite remarkable is Tom Meleck’s set design of Johnny’s Bar and Grill. It shows the bar as rather cozy and not necessarily run down, having everything one would find in a neighbor tap with its Rock-Ola jukebox as its centerpiece, loaded with those “soul” hits along with a few “dusties” added to the musical selection.
     Directed by Ben Gulillory, NO PLACE TO BE SOMEBODY is a gritty and hard hitting piece of urban drama that still packs a punch. And the plight of the Negro that the play speaks for still exists within the African-American community found in the present. In today’s world, the Harlem setting could have been part of a post modern gentrification that would have chased the undesirables away, including the streetwalkers, the poor, and those people of color. It’s a prime example where the American Dream of success is still a dream for those not of the proper color. This production as presented by the Robey Theatre Company, is highly recommended!

     NO PLACE FOR SOMEBODY, presented by the Robey Theatre Company, performs at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 South Spring Street, downtown Los Angeles, until May 8th. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday nights at 8:00 PM. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 PM. Special Monday night performance takes place on April 18th at 7:00 PM.
     For ticket reservations or for more information, call (866) 811-4111, or via the website at http://www.TheLatc.org
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     The Falcon Theatre presents THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF TOLUCA LAKE, a musical satire of those “The Real Housewives of…” reality TV programs that takes upon a local viewpoint.
     The housewives in question consists of Lulu (Anita Barone), Penny (Jenna Coker-Jones), Beezus (Cynthia Ferrer), Joanne (Meredith Patterson), and Babette (Adrienne Visnic), a group of so-called “housewives” that lives in a charming and somewhat pricey section of the eastern San Fernando Valley named after a lake that nobody really knows where this lake is! These five are of a privileged variety. They don’t have any sort of employment. They do have some kind of access to money through their husbands or their ex husbands, although they are all entrepreneurs hawking goods with their names on them on one of those home shopping TV channels where one of those gals has a stake in. They spend much of their times looking good through their chose of clothing, as well as getting adjustments on their bodies from facelifts, nose jobs, and anything of importance found below their waistline and above their knees. (Both front and back!) Their story begins when one of their own kind who didn’t follow their rules of being a successful housewife dies. In her will, she appoints Joanne as the head housewife. But Joanne, along with the rest of her gal-pals, have problems of their own, from keeping romantic affairs, engaging in excessive drinking and pill popping, along with other forms of woe that make their little lives rather difficult. Joanne receive an offer from a mysterious voice heard on her tricked out smartphone to write a blog to dish the dirt on what there gals are up to! Of course, it will cost  her alliance toward the anothers! Will Joanne spill the beans of her fellow housewives, or will these chick continues their vices–if they are not back stabbing each other first!
     This musical created by Molly Bell (book, words, and musical score) is a comical and rather cartoonish put-on to those so-called housewives that are part of the excess that the Los Angeles region is world famous for. The cast of five woman who portray the housewives are just as cartoonish as the lifestyle they live in! Each one can sing and dance from one episode to another as they attempt to live the way they want while all other watching view with envy. (Or so they believe that is what you desire!) The musical numbers are very catty and just as comical. One either wants to root for these gals with a lot of time on their hands (after all, they don’t work “real” jobs or have families or households to take care of), or to keep a secret desire for somebody to stab them in the back!
     Kyle de Tarnowsky’s transcribed musical direction, with the assistance of Dolores Duran-Cefalu on music, arrangements, and orchestrations, gives this show an upbeat boost. Roger Castellano provides the choreography that keeps the pacing profound, David Kay Michelsen’s costume design dresses these TL chicks in the stylist of fashions, and Stephen Gifford’s set design presents a backdrop that can be taken from a homestead found in the region it speak for.
     Also appearing within the cast is Marc Ginsburg, playing various roles that represent some of the men found within their lives, from husbands to spa keepers to an MC hosting a shopping program featuring a new product created by these real housewives!
     Directed by Roger Bean, THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF TOLUCA LAKE is very funny, cute, and just as bubbly as a glass of Pinot Grigio consumed during any time of the day. (Early mornings, too!) One never knows just what goes behind those closed and even open doors one can find just a stones throw away from North Hollywood! (*gasp!*)

     THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF TOLUCA LAKE, presented by The Falcon Theatre & Roger Bean Productions, performs at The Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank, until April 24th. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday nights at 8:00 PM, and Sunday afternoons at 4:00 PM.
     For ticket reservations and for more information, call (818) 955-8101, or via online at http://www.FalconTheatre.com.
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