Friday, December 14, 2012

The apple of his eye

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The boy, legs dangling, made his wooden restaurant chair seem an impossibly large throne, while beside him, in a rumbling sleep, the very large man made his seat appear small and fragile.

There was a half-empty cup of coffee in front of the slumbering adult, and a few coins of change on a tray beside it.

In front of the boy was a small plate where a slice of pie had once stood. He now was mashing the butt of his fork into the few remaining crumbs, then raising it over his upturned mouth and shaking them loose.

A waitress, not old and not young, knew that the longer she ignored them and let them sit there, the longer they could stay out of the swirling snowstorm that had brushed over Baltimore.

She also knew this meant delaying another paying customer, which she desperately needed. Yet something about the boy – the way he seemed to understand that his vulnerability served as protection for the man – gave him an air of maturity.

The waitress watched them over her order pad as she listened to an old couple engage in their nightly debate over what to eat. After signaling they were ready to order they had asked to hear the specials again, then huddled together to weigh the respective merits of chicken fried steak amd pan-seared trout. She was familiar with the performance and knew she did not have to listen. They worked their way through the benefits of each, the option of sharing, then thought about something on the regular menu that they hadn't tried, and then agreed to, again, "avoid the fats, deny the flavor." With a sigh of resignation, the wife said we’ll split the chef salad and each have a vanilla milk shake. Thank you, dear.

Until she heard Thank you, dear, the waitress had been watching the boy to see how he looked at the man. Even a fleeting glance, a fraction of a peek, she felt would reveal the nature of their relationship. The eyes carry so much, she thought as the couple negotiated before her. A droplet of eye contact could condense volumes of meaning about the relationship between these strangers. Understanding. Love. Fear. Indifference. Were they father and son? Unrelated? A kidnapper and his strange, consenting ward? Was the boy concerned for the older fellow? Was he ill, dying, so tired he couldn’t stay awake – not that the diner's diluted coffee could perk anyone up. Were they there to meet someone who was late?

But he never looked over. He revealed no emotion towards the man. Maybe it was just that he was tired of their plight, of finding new restaurants in which to have a treat before going out and eating whatever they could scrounge. Although they weren’t dirty or disheveled, there was a lived in feeling about their clothes and their silence was that of those who spend every moment of every day together.

"Thank you, dear."

There it was. She looked down at her pad, wrote “chef, splt; van. shakes.” And went to the kitchen to place the order.

When she returned to the dining room it was to take orders of hamburgers and fries tp a happy young family in another section, setting three plates onto place mats covered with their crayon drawings of clowns flying kites. When she turned around, the man and boy were gone. She quickly moved to their table, where through the large diner window she saw their dark forms walking into the blowing snow. Above them in the distance, a glowing red circle indicated a traffic light. And as the swirling white enveloped them, without either a word or look between them, the red glow turned green as the boy slipped his tiny gloved hand into the man’s freezing bare fist.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


'Tis the single ticket season

The willful suspensions of both our beliefs and our budgeting concerns are what make the holidays a time of wonder – and mystery!

Theaters from Burbank to Balboa Park are doing their part to add magic to the season with special single-ticket productions. Actors and playwrights are telling stories about the transformative powers of love, forgiveness, and, in more than one case, a well-stocked liquor trolley.

Dominating the landscape are adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, from the faithfully followed to the irreverent and fun-filled. They range from a Second City world premiere to a modern-day update starring Fred Willard to one that turns L.A's first Water Czar William Mulholland into Scrooge!
But there are lots of laughs for the whole family. Our daft Troubies are back with a rock-infused retelling of Rudolph's tale, helpless "Bob" has scheduled another hapless Holiday Office Party, the Pasadena Playhouse mounts a glittering Snow White adaptation, Capra's Wonderful Life gives Clarence his angel wings, and two of our favorite grounded angels – Crissy Guerrero and Claudia Dolph – pour their saucy cabaret at Hollywood Studio Bar and Grill.

Here's a quick overview complete with links, dates, and addresses. Got a review, endorsement, or addition – email us and Theatertimes will post.

A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens!

Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City

Culver City's Cultural Citadel is world preeming Second City's take on A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens! The famed improv-comedy troupe collaborates with CTG to ratchet up the traditional tale. A "host of anachronistic characters and hilarious improvs" will strip the script from Scrooge, kick the Cratchit crutch, and blow the dust off those spirits of present, past, and future. And if that weren't enough to start you slouching toward bedlam, the regular cast (including voice-of-Homer Dan Castellaneta) will be joined by an ever-changing stable of starry, drop-in special guests." Holy shit! You'll have to go every day! Guided by past and present spirits of "The Colbert Report" writing team, Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, irrespectively.

Run: 11/29-12/30 (Previews begin 11/24)

Tickets and information: 213-628-2772 or online.

A Mulholland Christmas Carol

Theatre of NOTE
1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood
Best known for inspiring Chinatown's Hollis Mulwray – and least known as the namesake of my middling Middle School – L.A.'s powerful first Water & Power chief William H. Mulholland rises from the run-off channels and storm drains that are his legacy for A Mulholland Christmas Carol. Now in its 10th year, the Bill Robens script turns WHM into a Scrooge for a water-hungry basin at war with Owens Valley and adds harmonies, history, humor, and "an acoustical, bluegrass take on the music."
Run: 11/30-12/23 (Previews begin 11/27) Thurs-Sat 8 p.m., Sun 7 p.m.; 12/24 2 p.m.
Tickets $30 (Students, seniors $25)
Tickets and information: 323-856-8611 or online.

Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol

SIX01 Studio
601 S. Anderson Street, Downtown Los Angeles
Tom Mula's four-actor version of Dickens' classic takes Marley's point-of-view. Scrooge's business partner, whose death is confirmed in the book's opening line, must take an active role in seeing that his friend redeems his soul, or he will be damned to the hellish eternity where he has been cast –made worse by an officious hell-sprite "who thoroughly enjoys his work,"
Run: 12/14-29 (Previews begin 11/30Thu, Fri & Sat at 8 p.m.; Sun at 3 p.m.)
Tickets: $34 ($20 previews)
Tickets and information: 800-838-3006 or online.

A Really, Really Good Time, Holly Jolly Christmas Carol

Grove Theatre (Upland)
276 E. 9th Street Upland
A new, modern-day version of Dickens' tale casts the lovable Fred Willard as the director of the United States Superstar Show. And, with days to its Christmas Eve opening, it needs a miracle. Naturally, all the blame goes to the cast and crew, especially right hand man Bobby Cratchit. Scrooge's rants end when the ghost of Johnny Carson arrives to launch him on a holiday journey that will make him a better man.
Tickets and information: 909-920-4343 or online

A Christmas Carol

Grove Theater Center
1111-b West Olive Ave., Burbank
David Allen Jones, Frank Simons, and Kate Danley guide audiences through the story - sometimes as narrators, sometimes as storytellers, and sometimes as characters – in the Grove Theater Center's original adaptation.
Run: 11/30-12/16 (Previews begin 11/28 Thu, Fri & Sat at 8 p.m.; Sun at 3 p.m.)
Tickets: $15 - $30 (Previews $10)
Tickets and information: 818-528-6622 or online

A Christmas Carol

A Noise Within
3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena
A Noise Within has flirted with Dickens' holy-holiday grail for several years, producing an excellent Oliver Twist and then Great Expectations. Now they go whole gosling with their own adaptation of the grand Christmas prize. Adapted and directed by co-founders Geoff and Julia Rodriguez Elliott, it stars Geoff as Eb, Robertson Dean as the narrator, and Stephen Rockwell, Jill Hill, Mitchell Edmonds, Deborah Strang, and Alan Blumenfeld in key roles. A "Fezziwig's Festive Holiday Tea" fundraiser will be held December 16 at noon, turtle-dovetailing into admission to the matinee performance.
Run: 12/8-23 (Previews begin 12/1)
Tickets: $40 - $52 (Discounts for groups and students)
Tickets and information: 626-356-3100 or online

A Christmas Carol

South Coast Repertory
655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
The granddaddy of regional Christmas Carols is this Orange County mainstay, now plowing into its fourth decade. In fact, it's tireless Scrooge, Hal Landon Jr. began his run in 1981 childless and is now himself a granddaddy! It's a sumptuous feast of period costumes, whirling set changes, and a finale of redemption sure to replace a miser's last lump of coal with a lump in his throat.
Run: 11/30-12/24, previews begin 11/24
Ticket prices $20-63, with discounts for children and groups
Tickets and information: 714-708-5555 or online.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

The Old Globe
1363 Old Globe Way, in San Diego’s Balboa Park
The Old Globe has its own tradition based on the classic by the late, but longtime La Jolla resident, Theodore (Dr. Seuss) Geisel. This is the 15th Annual How the Grinch Stole Christmas for the Balboa Parkers, who again transform their mainstage into the snow-covered Whoville – right down to the last can of Who-hash. Familiar songs include "Santa for a Day," "You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and "Welcome, Christmas (Fah Who Doraze), " from the popular animated version.
Run: 11/23-12/30 (Previews begin 11/17)
Ticket prices start at $37 for adults and $24 for children (17 years and under).
Tickets and information: 619-23-GLOBE or online.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Rein-DOORS

Troubadour Theater Company
Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., in Burbank
Plenty of rockers have created great theater – from Little Richard to Peter Gabriel to the Great Lizardo himself, Jim Morrison. But few theaters have returned the favor the way the Troubies do. Their musical chops are surpassed only by their acting skills and disdain for fourth walls. Of their several seasonal stagings, they have chosen to remount Rudolph The Red-nosed Rein-DOORS, in which the bands catalogue creates strange days indeed for Santa. Sure to sell out, so get stirring!
Run: 12/7-1/6/13, Previews 11/28 (Wed-Sat at 8 p.m., Sun at 4 p.m.)
Tickets $34.50-42; Previews $29.50-$32; Opening night $52-57 (Student, group discounts)
Tickets and information: 818-955-8101 or online.

Footprints in the Snow / Dark Carols

Bootleg Theater
2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles
A couple of presents: Dark Carols, A song cycle from Philip Litell and Peter Golub and Footprints In The Snow from Golub and the Amphigorey of Edward Gorey. Two from the darker side of the season start spreading the cheer November 28 through December 8 only – Black Thursdays through Black Saturdays.
Run: 11/29-12/8 (Thurs–Sat 7:30 p.m.)
Ticket prices $15 for adults and $24 for children (17 years and under).
Tickets and information: 213-389-3856 or online.

Bob's Holiday Office Party

The Pico Playhouse Theater
10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
Co-writers Joe Keyes and Rob Elk provide a peek at insurance agent Bob Finhead and his whacked-out friends and clients as they stop by his small-town Iowa office for their annual holiday – and head– bashing. The town mayor, the sheriff, the twin farmer sisters, the stoner, the town floozy, and the pastor's wife have already RSVP'd for this year's event. But Bob has dreams of a bigger life and wants to escape their narrow-minded thinking. Will he be able to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional inventor and move to the big city, or will he come to realize how much he is the heart and soul of the town?
Run:12/6-22 (Thurs-Sat 8 p.m.; Sun 7 p.m.)
Tickets $20-25
Tickets and information: 800-838-3006 or online.

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues

Chance Theatre
5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills
Get "backstage" at Santa's famous toy-making facility, where it's not all tinsel and cookies. The reindeer are revolting, and shedding angst along with their antlers as they set the record straight about Santa. "When a doe says 'No,' she means 'No Way, Sucka!'"
Run: 11/26–12/22 (Mon-Wed 8 p.m. Fri-Sat 11 p.m.)
Tickets $22-35 (Student, Senior and group discounts
Tickets and information: 714-777-3033 or online.

Santaland Diaries

Blank Theatre
Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.
Blank Theatre brings back David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries for its 4th year, starring Paolo Andino under Michael Matthews' direction. NPR’s humorist wrote the one-man show about his experiences as an unemployed writer who takes a job as a Christmas elf at Macy’s in New York City. At first, the job is simply humiliating, but once thousands of visitors start pouring through Santa's workshop, David (or, as his alter ego is known, Crumpet the Elf) becomes battle weary and bitter, occasionally taking out his frustrations on the parents and children alike.
Run: Now running. (Thurs-Sat 8 p.m.; Sun 2 p.m.)
Tickets $30
Tickets and information: 323-661-9827 or online.

A Snow White Christmas

Pasadena Playhouse
39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena
Ariana Grande from Nickelodeon’s "Victorious" stars as Snow White, with an on-screen appearance by Neil Patrick Harris as The Magic Mirror and "Dallas'" Charlene Tilton as The Wicked Queen. Bonnie Lythgoe of "So You Think You Can Dance" directs, with choreography by Spencer Liff of the same show. A Snow White Christmas features family-friendly magic, with a comedic twist, dancing, a live miniature pony, and contemporary pop music. Families can come early for a Winter Wonderland in the courtyard that includes holiday music, crafts, activities, games and photo opportunities.
Run: 12/13-30, Previews 12/12 (Tues-Fri 7 p.m.; Sat 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m.; and Sun at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.)
Ticket prices $32–$100 with discounts for children and groups
Tickets and information: 626-356-7529 or online.

C & C's Christmas
With a Twist

Crissy Guerrero/Claudia Dolph
Hollywood Studio Bar and Grill, 6122 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood
Long a bright fixture of La Posada Magica journey, singer/performer Crissy Guerrero un-dons her posadera togs and takes the well-trodden path to this popular Hollywood watering hole. No vela-lighting required when Guerrero and fellow "Elvette" Claudia Dolph light the stage with C & C's Christmas With a Twist, their twisted take on Christmas cheer. It's the humorous side of the holidays with song, dance, puppets, theremin, and even a little magic! Their helpers include pianist Ron Snyder, Jack McGee as Santa, Alina Foley, and The Hot Toddy Tipsies Dancers! Says CG, "We did our best to find songs that aren't heard very often -- or, at all, ranging from Tom Waits to John Denver. And, those that are more traditional, we are with in some way." Plenty of free parking. Parental guidance recommended.
Run: One performance only – December 2 at 7 p.m. (Doors open at 6:45
Tickets $18 ($10 in advance; 2 item [food or drink] min/person)
Tickets and information: online.

Plaid Tidings

Laguna Playhouse
606 Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach
The spirits of Past, Present and Future team as the late doo-wop group from 1964 back together again – with no idea why they're in Laguna Beach for the holidays! Christmas classics include "It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas," "Let It Snow," and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. " Audiences are encouraged to help the Plaids find their way once again to the spirit of joy and community that sustains them and all of us during the holiday season.
Run: 12/1-23 Previews 11/27-30 (Tues-Sat 8 p.m., Sat-Sun 2 p.m.)
Ticket prices $40 - $70
Tickets and information: 949-497-2787 or online.

It's a Wonderful Life

Theatre Unleashed
The Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank
Theatre Unleashed brings back its staged radio play version of Frank Capra’s It's A Wonderful Life. The play within a play takes place at KAWL, a struggling 1940s radio station that good-hearted owner Michael Anderson is barely keeping alive. He calls on some old friends (with big personalities) and some less-than-professional station employees to offer up the touching masterpiece in what might sadly be the station’s last live show. But it is the holidays, a time when miracles can happen….
Run: 11/30-12/15 (Fri/Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 p.m.)
Tickets $25
Tickets and information: 818-849-4039 or online.

And, everytime Clarence gets his wings, or Scrooge has his change of heart, an angel in the wings breathes a sigh of relief, because the holidays are the single-ticket season when theaters can fill their seats and reduce the amount they need to raise from donors.
Happy Holidays indeed!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Don't hand me that line.

The following story was submitted to the Write On! January 2011 contest to write a 200-400 word story about excuses writers come up with to put off doing their work. While it was a fun distraction, and earned second place, it nevertheless became a wonderful excuse for putting off more urgent writing demands.

I speed-walked around the corner with my briefcase in one hand, my coffee and donut balanced in the other, and plowed into the back of a large man blocking the sidewalk. Ahead of him, a line of people stretched to the front door of First Trust, where I was a loan officer.

"Wasn't watching where I was going," I apologized as I brushed glaze smudges from his coat.

“No excuse,” he grumbled without turning around. “You can’t miss me.”

"I didn’t miss you,” I quipped, trying to change the mood.

He turned with a glare, which quickly softened.

“Hey! You're the procrastination guy . . . with the book!" he exclaimed, drawing others around us.

"What book?" I asked.

“There’s No Time Like Next Time,” he said.

“It's online," a woman said.

“Another Time?” I asked.

“No," they said. "Today!”

“The title," I explained. "It's Another Time, not Next Time. Anyway, it's not a book. It's a fake essay I wrote in college. Someone's kid must have found it and made that Youtube video. It's a joke."

The group of moms with their kids, anxious businesspeople, and students just stared at me. "It's no joke," someone said threateningly.

"My son needs something for school," the woman said hugging an embarrassed child. "I'll pay you."

The others nodded. "Yes, we'll gladly pay."

"Let me get to my desk," I said.

For the rest of the morning, I worked my way through the line, handing out excuses I'd used in my years as an editor, publicist, and freelance writer. Some were unassailable: debilitating heartbreak, hospitalized children, visits from dangerous relatives, temporary blindness, even a homework-eating dog. The more outlandish they were, the more people paid: clearing earthquake rubble, a lottery win, an exploding washing machine, being attacked by crows, starring in a reality show.

When I reached the large man at the end of the line, he sat down, made sure the others had left, and stopped me from writing.

"Mine isn't for a writing assignment," he whispered, hanging his head.

I looked up and saw that he was actually eyeing my donut.

"You want to put off your diet?"

He nodded.

"How about telling yourself you spent a stressful morning in a loan office?"

He looked up, smiled, and reached for his wallet.

"No charge," I said, as I slid the donut towards him.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Universal soldier

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On the battlefield, with proper training, a soldier can defuse any explosive device. But the stress, frustration, and unfocused anger that same soldier carries home could be so powerful and well hidden that it goes undetected until it detonates without warning.

Actor-storyteller and Vietnam Veteran Troy Evans told the Los Angeles Times, "It never occurred to me that my government would send me 13,000 miles to kill people if there wasn't a very good reason. . . . An experience like that is incredibly damaging. When I got back, I was completely out of my mind – and I didn't know it. I was so hurt, so angry, so ashamed. I was also incredibly violent."

Evans' "Montana Tales and other Bad-Ass Business" incorporates stories about his youth in Montana that ended with 16 months in the 25th Infantry Division. His time in Vietnam left him with a Bronze Star, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Gallantry Cross, and a hair-trigger temper that earned him a prison term for aggravated assault. It's unforgettable theater and a look at how one man finally found a way to disarm and channel his rage into storytelling.

He will perform "Montana Tales" on August 11, 2012 at the Audubon Center's Deb Park (4700 North Griffin Ave.) in a performance to benefit the Southwest Museum of the American Indian.

I met Evans in 1985 when he appeared in a play called Bing and Walker. Evans' backstory was unknown to me then, but as Arthur Walker, he created a character that has been indelible. Evans' thick-necked, hulking figure and agreeable disposition were well-suited for Walker, whose powerful body, and the childlike mind that kept it in check, were reminiscent of Steinbeck's Lenny. Walker's ambition was simply to be honestly loved by someone and treated as an equal by the others.

Diane, played by Ann Hearn, was a 15-year-old runaway who allows the lonely man-child to become infatuated with her without making it clear that she is only passing through. When her time to move on arrives, it breaks his over-sized heart and prompts a surprisingly articulate rush of raw emotion and wounded dignity that touched every audience member. If he was not deserving of her love, he still deserved her honesty.

Hearn remembered those climactic scenes with Evans.

"Troy was always amazing as an actor. But it's funny that my biggest, strongest impression was hearing him tell his stories at a small venue. Never had I heard anything of such power and fascination," she told me. "And, even being married to an incredible storyteller like Stephen [Tobolowsky], Troy still remains a high bar with those talents."

I first heard Evans tell his stories in 1989. Walker was gone, but the wonder, the hurt, and the emotional heft were very much on display. In his one man-show, just as on stage or in his 50 film and 400 TV appearances that have made him a familiar face (from "China Beach" to "ER" to Phenomenon), he always taps a universal.

For a Theatertimes story on the upcoming benefit, I Evans asked where his storytelling skills and material come from.

"In 2010, my father, Leo B. Evans, was invited to Iwo Jima for the 65th anniversary of the Army Air Corp landing there to begin the air assault on Japan. He was in a Veterans Administration hospital at the time suffering from advanced dementia. I went in his place," he told me.

"In the spring of 1945, 30,000 men died there in 30 days," he continued. "One third of all Marines killed in WWII died on Iwo. My dad flew 33 missions including the first air attack on Tokyo, the Nagasaki mission, and the last air attack of the War. In addition to his air awards he earned flying the P-51 Mustang, he was awarded a Bronze Star for ground combat on Iwo. I will never forget being on that tiny island trying to picture the epic horror that occurred there.

"About this time I started reading about the history of the early days in Montana at the time of the big Gold and Silver strikes of the 1860s. In 1860, there were less than 300 Europeans in the area we now call Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. Within weeks of gold being discovered on Grasshopper Creek in Bannack, Montana territory in 1862, 10,000 rough cases descended on the area. Murders were taking place every day, and the miners chose Henry Plummer to be sheriff.

"A reign of terror consumed the next year with miners continually being killed for their gold, and the gold shipments being stolen by road agents every time until a citizens committee determined that Plummer was in fact the head of the outlaw gang "The Innocents." The Vigilance Committee hung Plummer and about 75 of his closest associates. Things became much more peaceful. In a couple of years the gold petered out and Bannack and Virginia City became quiet little towns. A muleskinner who ran a small freight line became Sheriff. His name was John Troy Evans, my great-grandfather.

"These two groups of information inspired me to revisit my stories, with these stories as the underlying origin of what I am."

The Audubon show will be a great setting for an evening ramble alongside one of America's great character-actors, characters, and storytellers. Tickets for are only $25. More information here.

Photos: Troy Evans with a lithograph of Montana, circa 1860 (top); Evans, seated right on his dad's lap, with his grandfather Troy, and, seated, his Great-grandfather John Troy in Butte, Montana, 1948 (inset).