Monday, February 15, 2016


It isn’t easy being GOD these days. He’s dealing with a lot of blow-back from his children. The natives who have been reluctantly obedient off and on over the millennia are restless again.They’re in one of their ‘we want straight answers this time’ moods.

When GOD, the bearer of good or bad news, makes one of his rare appearances to his earth-bound children, he wisely chooses comedy as the medium of communication. The pain of hearing the truth is mercifully muted by audience laughter in his visit to the Ahmanson Theatre’s current production.

“An Act of GOD”, written by David Javerbaum, former head comedy writer of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”, is a clever and smartly directed comedy by Broadway veteran Joe Mantello, and is a perfect fit for the talent of its star Sean Hayes.

Hayes cut his comedy chops on the popular TV series “Will & Grace”. This time, however, Hayes playing GOD naturally gets top billing. He has the Ahmanson stage all to himself. The only exceptions are his two favorite angels – Gabriel, played by James Gleason, and Michael, played by David Josefsberg, who are there to assist when needed.

But there is no doubt as to who the stage belongs to in this 21st century Biblical recitation on the Commandments. This time, stentorian-styled delivery is replaced with a laid-back GOD figure who dispenses his re-explanations while reclining on a large, elevated, white sofa, spiced with the vernacular of today. His dialogue with the audience has bite and comedy-style worthy of some of today’s best stand-up comedians.

As a cautionary note: One should be prepared to hear the content of the Commandments explained by Hayes to be not quite as verbatim as you remember when you were learning how to conduct yourself under the rules of a polite and civilized society. Thanks to Javerbaum’s script, the production is replete with topical references to Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and the 2016 Presidential Debates. GOD’s chit-chat monologues to the audience sound a little odd coming from the Big Kahuna, but it is after all a comedy.

Style and delivery are the virtues of this production. Content reveals that no new ground is being broken here from director Montello and Javerbaum except to have the Biblical commandments re-explained for millennials in the vernacular they so enjoy. I found the show, which is performed without an intermission, to be an amusing comedy, yes, but not what the New York critics and hype claimed it to be.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Sean Hayes’ winning performance. If one judges by audience reaction and involvement, then the opening night audience loved it. On exiting the theatre I had a chance to ask two middle-aged women if they liked the show. “Yes. It was very funny and entertaining” they said. Pressing the issue, I then asked would you say that more women were laughing than men? Both replied, “I think it was about 50-50”. I estimate the divide to be more like 70 female, 30 male. Alas, the battle of the sexes apparently still rages. For me, I'm afraid, it’s a bit like pouring old wine into a new bottle.

The Ahmanson Theatre is a large venue: 2000 seats. For a three character play, the players can get swallowed up the vastness of the house and stage space. Perhaps, a smaller performance space like the Taper would have been a better fit.

The technical credits at the Ahmanson for “An Act of God” are first rate. The creative team led by director Mantello include: Scott Pask as Scenic designer, Costumes designed by David Zinn, Lighting designs by Hugh Vanstone, Sound design by Fitz Patton, Music by Adam Schlesinger, Projection designer Peter Nigrini, Illusion consultant Paul Kieve, and special effects designed by Gregory Meeh.

“An Act of GOD” performs at the Ahmanson Theatre in LA and runs through March 13, 2016.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Carla Harting and Manny Fernandes
Photo credit: Daren Scott
The Irish are known for being great storytellers. The bigger the tale, the better the story. In America today, one of the best practitioners of Irish wit and comedy is the colorful New York-born writer John Patrick Shanley.

The Academy Award-winning screenwriter of “Moonstruck” and the Tony-winning playwright of “Doubt: A Parable”, Shanley also won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, along with a slew of awards, all for “Doubt”. Toiling for years off-Broadway, Shanley has now zoomed to the top tier of much-in-demand playwrights and screenwriters. His latest theatrical effort is the romantic comedy “Outside Mullingar”, which takes place in rural Ireland.

Which brings us to the marvelously acted comedy production now onstage in the Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza. Deftly directed by REP Associate Artistic Director Todd Salovey, “Outside Mullingar”, is both tender and hilarious when performed in that lilting Celtic accent.

Shanley’s clever blending of the wit of Oscar Wilde and the whimsy of George Bernard Shaw in the telling of the charming tale of the courtship of Anthony Reilly (Manny Fernandes) and Rosemary Muldoon (Carla Harting), under the watchful eyes of their parents Aoife Muldoon (Ellen Crawford) and Tony Reilly (Mike Genovese), becomes a comedy gem of a production.

The play, set in a cattle and sheep farm in the Midlands of Ireland, centers around two farmers, Anthony and Rosemary, who live next to each other. Rosemary has been romantically interested in Anthony all of her life; Anthony, however, is painfully shy, and unaware of Rosemary’s feelings.

He doesn’t care for the life of a farmer and his father Tony plans to leave the farm to a nephew. But plans in life often change. Anthony and Rosemary are forty-somethings approaching middle age. Their respective parents are waiting for the miracle of romance and love to finally envelope the ‘youngsters’.

When a playwright gives a talented cast of Equity professionals a great script, the collaboration becomes an enjoyable evening at the theatre for both audience and actors.This comedy gem stars four talented actors who, when they find themselves onstage in a comedy, know exactly what to do. Crawford and Genovese are marvelous as the older pair who have great onstage chemistry and comedy timing in their scenes. One cannot teach timing; either you have it or you don’t, and they have it in spades.

Anthony Fernandes, Carla Harting
Photo credit: Daren Scott
Fernandes and Harting (he’s tall, she’s dainty) are a perfect match. The scene when Rosemary finally makes her ‘move’, revealing her longstanding crush on Anthony and his shy, almost squirming manner when hearing it, is a sublime comedy moment. What follows is even better.

It’s a deliciously crafted play that sends out hilarious Irish-style zingers that hit the mark. However, one doesn’t have to be Irish to appreciate the comedy. It’s universal in its appeal.

Director Salovey brings many nice directorial touches to this production. The decision to use a trio of musicians as a way to warm-up the audience with Irish songs is a winner thanks to the talents of Jim Mooney, Alicia Previn, and Richard Tibbits. Also the projection designs to portray the time changes – the action covers a time period of six years – is nicely done.

Richard Tibbets, Jim Mooney, Alicia Previn 
Photo credit: Daren Scott
The creative team, led by director Salovey, includes Scenic Designer Giulio Perrone, Costume Designer Anastasia Pautova, Lighting/Projection Designer Sherrice Mojgani, and Sound Designer David Scott.

This highly entertaining San Diego Rep Theatre comedy production is performed without an intermission. The ninety minute running time at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza just zips along. “Outside Mullingar” performs through February 14, 2016.  Don’t miss it!