Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Judith Chapman,  Michael Fairman, Scott Smith
in "The Outgoing Tide " - Photo by Clark Duggar 
Life and death are a fact of life on this planet. We must all confront the inevitable. No one ever left this planet alive. Death and rebirth are tenets of some religions and the tenets of all religions are acts of faith.

Humankind is at a point today where eons of traditions are being revisited when it comes to medically-assisted suicide, or just plain suicide by individuals as a way to relieve excruciating pain and long term suffering when terminal diseases, like cancer, are present and in situations where Alzheimer's disease is a living death.

The concept of allowing each individual to make medical decisions for themselves is new, complicated, and has been challenged legally in this country through the ballot box and the referendum process. It was only a matter of time before playwrights, writers, medical professionals and the legal profession began to weigh in on this highly-charged and emotional subject matter. Oregon, for example, has passed a law allowing assisted suicide. California is contemplating passing a similar law with other states now exploring their options.

Which brings us to “The Outgoing Tide”, a powerful and compelling drama now being performed by Dezart Performs theatrical group at the Pearl McManus Stage of the Palm Springs Women’s Club.

“The Outgoing Tide”, insightfully written by Bruce Graham and intelligently directed by Dezart Performs co-founder Michael Shaw, is blessed with a cast of three seasoned professional actors who have graced your movie and television screens over the years and who know their way around a poignant, relevant, and deeply emotional play when they find themselves in one.

The story has three sharply drawn characters who bring to life the saga of the Concannon family and their lives on Chesapeake Bay during one Autumn.

Gunner (a sensational Michael Fairman), a retired small trucking company owner, is painfully aware that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Peg (national acting treasure Judith Chapman) and their son Jack (Scott Smith), have been dreading the day when end-of-life plans and decisions have to be made concerning Gunner. How does a loving and caring wife make decisions that will affect her proud, stubborn, blue-collar kind of guy who always has been a take charge husband and a vigorous, robust father figure to Jack?

Gunner is determined not to allow Peg to put him in one of the retirement homes that Peg and Gunner having been visiting of late. He’s not going to be one of those vacant-staring old men who don’t recognize their own children when they show up to visit. Jack is in the process of getting a divorce and is of little support to Peg who has been bearing the brunt of Gunner’s frustrations concerning his mental deterioration. He roars like a wounded lion when his frustrations becomes too great to bear.

As the play opens Gunner and Jack have been talking together about fishing, the beauty of the Bay, and when Peg comes to call them in for dinner, Gunner says to Peg “Who is that guy?” Whenever Peg or Gunner talk to Jack they both say “don’t tell your father or don’t tell your mother". Everyone knows what the end game is, it’s that nobody wants to discuss it openly, everybody that is, except Gunner.

Gunner, in his usual style, takes control of the inevitable and concocts a scheme to spare his family the trauma of the-end-of-life decisions and at the same time preserve their monetary future. How Gunner accomplishes it, and the ensuing discussions between this ensemble trio of gifted actors, is the meat of this splendidly performed play.

Scott  Smith,  Michael  Fairman,  Judith Chapman
in "The Outgoing Tide " - Photo by Clark Duggar 
The Concannon family story is interspersed with a series of time shift flashbacks, then forward to the present. These transitions, which are important to the story, are nicely handled by director Shaw. His seamless directorial touches and fingerprints are all over this excellent production.

The beauty and power of this production lies in the sharp, incisive dialogue of playwright Graham and the potent performances of Michael Fairman, Judith Chapman, and Scott Smith. When quality writing is placed in the hands of gifted and experienced actors, the result is elevated and sublime.

The technical credits and the creative team led by director Shaw and producer Clark Duggar, features a beach front home set design that is superbly lighted by Phil Murphy, and features the work of scenic artist Walter Lab, and a sound design by Duggar. The production is in the capable stage manager hands of Blanche Mickelson.

“The Outgoing Tide” performs at the Pearl McManus theatre and runs through May 8, 2016. For reservations and ticket information call the box office at 760-322-0179.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Zachary Hallett and Ivy Jones play grandson and
grandmother in "4000 Miles" - All photos by CV Rep

According to American Theatre Magazine, “4000 Miles" was the most produced play in the country during 2014 and for good reasons too.

It continues to resonate with the American theatre-going public because the story is one that appeals to a broad age range – from young adults to middle-agers to super seniors.

CV Repertory Theatre founding artistic director Ron Celona was taken with playwright Amy Herzog’s dramedy “4000 Miles” the minute he read it. “It offered humor, heart, and thought-provoking topics that most of us can relate to in life,” he says. Celona felt it would be a good fit for his Rancho Mirage audiences and a great way to end CV Rep’s 2015-2016 season. He was right on all counts.

Everyone has a story to tell. In “4000 Miles” the story revolves around New York City, Greenwich Village-based 91 year-old Vera Joseph (a delightfully prickly Ivy Jones), grandmother to her twenty one year-old grandson Leo Joseph Connell of Minneapolis (a sensational Zachary Hallett), who unexpectedly appears at her door late one night looking for a place to crash for the night.

Leo has been on a six month cross-country bicycle trip from Seattle to New York City with his best friend Micah and Micah’s girlfriend Allison (both characters are never seen only referred to). We learn later that during the journey Micah had been killed in a freak highway accident with a big rig truck.

Zachary Hallett and Ivy Jones
It’s obvious that Leo is suffering and is suppressing the loss of his best friend. With Leo and his mother not on the best of terms, Leo turns to his grandmother Vera for solace. Vera is tentative on how best to console her grandson, worrying that too much mothering may not be the best way to help. Perhaps, humor and light banter and waiting to see what happens is best.

Vera too has felt the pain of loss. Her husband Joe died and she has been on her own for several years. Vera and Leo are not only DNA connected, they’re kindred souls looking for reasons to keep looking forward.

Megan Rippey and Zachary Hallett
Leo’s estranged girlfriend Bec (Megan Rippey) has mixed emotions when she and Leo meet again in Vera’s apartment. He wants to reconnect; Bec is for breaking up. Leo feels his world rapidly collapsing, even more so while he’s in New York City.

Even an attempted one-night fling with Amanda (Christine De Chavez), an elusive, perky bombshell he meets one evening, fails to ignite and only further frustrates him.

Christine De Chavez and Zachary Hallett
“4000 Miles” is solidly staged by director Celona who smoothly orchestrates this 90 minute, no-intermission drama nicely leavened with comedy moments.

The performances of Zachary Hallett and Ivy Jones have the onstage chemistry that gives each many moments to shine. Hallett’s introspective and naturalistic performance is both compelling and highly nuanced, and his timing is impeccable. Jones compliments Hallett’s performance with a caring, gentle and delightful turn that says elder relatives – grandmother and grandson - can indeed close the generation gap.Their pot-smoking scene is hilarious.

The technical credits at CV REP are always first rate and resident Set Designer Jimmy Cuomo doesn’t disappoint. Vera’s West Village apartment screams New York City. The lighting design by Moira Wilkie Whitaker provides just the right amount of light, not only to see the actors, but to appreciate the costumes of designer Aalsa Lee. The sound by Randy Hansen and Karen Goodwin, hair and makeup by Lynda Shaeps, and props design associate Doug Morris (who makes things magically disappear and reappear between scenes), is under the watchful eyes of Stage Manager Louise Ross.

“4000 Miles” brings a fitting close to a highly successful CV REP season that included “Happy Hour”, “A Class Act” and “I Am My Own Wife”. All were outstanding productions that left indelible memories on CV REP audiences, and this critic, that still linger to this day.

This splendid production runs through May 8, 2016. Tickets and reservations may be obtained by calling 760-296-2966.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Laura Julian, Britt Adams and Marcia Waterbury in
Agnes of God - All photos by David A. Lee
Whoever says one has to go to New York or LA to see great theatre obviously hasn’t seen, but should see, the current Coyote StageWorks production of “Agnes of God” now on stage at the Annenberg Theatre in Palm Springs.

The serious, thought-provoking play written by John Pielmeier examines not only the core issue of how religion interacts with science and psychology in particular, it also becomes a theatrical triumph in the hands of its gifted director Don Amendolia. Thanks to a brilliant cast of three female actors who plumb the depths of their highly complex characters in a glittering display of insight, faith, doubt, love, and humanity, “Agnes of God” is a must-see production.

Pielmeier says he’s always been fascinated by crises of faith and youth- related subjects for his plays and his writing projects.In 1982, he hit the jackpot with “Agnes of God”, propelling him into the front ranks of American playwrights.

Set in a convent, the story explores the incidents surrounding a young novice (a mesmerizing Britt Adams) who has been accused of murdering her newborn. A court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Martha Livingston, (Marsha Waterbury) is charged with assessing the sanity of the young novice. Mother Miriam Ruth (Laura Julian), the Mother Superior of the order, is determined to keep young Agnes from the doctor, arousing Livingston’s suspicions further as to what actually took place that fateful night. Who killed the infant and who fathered the tiny victim are hard questions that Livingston is determined to raise and get answers to for her medical fitness report.

Marcia Waterbury in
"Agnes of God"
Through a series of highly charged, penetrating, and revealing interviews with Agnes, Livingston’s analysis remains inconclusive. None the less, these sessions ultimately force all three women to re-examine the meaning of faith and the redemptive power of love that leads the audience to a dramatic compelling climax. No more spoiler alerts. One must come and experience the play for oneself. It’s a riveting experience, I guarantee it.

Faith-based plays can be daunting for audiences in that they run the risk of feeling threatened by the on-stage authenticity of the performers. The role of theatre is to hold up mirrors to those of us who make up humanity and then let each draw his or her own conclusions as to whether we are players or observers, or both. No one ever said life on this planet is easy and everyone deserves a free ride; that isn’t the way it works.

The beauty and the power of this stellar production comes from the inspired performances of its three-woman cast. Each performance radiates a glow like a multi-faceted precious gem. It’s not often one gets to root for all three characters in the same production. In this production, each actor is allowed to create their own special magic under the watchful eye and seamless direction of director Amendolia.

Laura Julian, Britt Adams in
"Agnes of God"
When ensemble casts like this one click, the results are sublime. A special note concerning the performance of actor Laura Julian is worth mentioning in this review. Ms. Julian stepped into the role of Mother Miriam Ruth with only a few days of rehearsal after a medical condition forced actor Valorie Armstrong to withdraw.

The technical and the creative team led by director Amendolia create a minimal, space-stage performing area designed by Josh Claybaugh consisting a couple of chairs surrounded by gossamer curtains, and lengthy sheer vertical banners lending a dream-like quality to the stage that is bathed in Moira Wilkie’s clever lighting design that splashes blue, white, and rose shafts of light in dramatic fashion.

Also spot-on are the costumes of designer Bonnie Nipar for the nuns, right down to their traditional black ‘louis heel’ shoes. And Mother Miriam Ruth’s rimless glasses are a touch of genius, the icing on the cake for all those who had to endure those penetrating stares from behind those glasses years ago. It’s always the little details that separate a good production from a great production.

And making sure everyone is ready and keeping the entire production running is stage manager Larry Raben.

“Agnes of God” is a splendid production you will not soon forget. For tickets and reservation information call the Annenberg Theater Box Office at 760-325-4490 or Coyote StageWorks at 760-318-0024.  The play performs Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through May 1st.

Friday, April 15, 2016


Irina Maleeva
Serendipity and timing definitely has a place in the world of show business and movies in particular. This past week I was fortunate to interview iconic international star of stage, screen and television, Irina Maleeva, who latest feature film “The Meddler”, starring Susan Sarandon, opens nationwide on April 22nd.

Maleeva, born in Bulgaria but who has lived in the United States for over 40 years, started her movie career at the tender age of 14 while living in Italy. She was discovered by famed filmmaker Federico Fellini and went on to work with some of the premiere filmmakers including Orson Welles.

Considering the recent dust-up at the 2016 Oscar ceremonies regarding the lack of diversity in the movie industry, to say nothing about the lack of roles for middle-age actors and beyond, the interview with Maleeva seemed like an interesting way to get a first-person opinion on this hot button topic.

Q: Hollywood and television are at long last acknowledging that the cinema and TV industries are in a state of transition when it comes to the subject of diversity in the arts. What are your observations on the subject of work for people of color with an emphasis on female actors of ‘a certain age'?

A: To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the subject. I favor diversity in the industry, of course. I’m a European woman who’s been a U.S. citizen for many years, and as an actor I applaud the industry for finally coming to grips with this issue. It’s been long overdue.”

Q:Tell me about all those references to the “La Dolce Vida” lifestyle when you worked with Fellini in “Satyricon”, “Spirits From the Dead”, and “Roma”.

A: Yes, I worked with the great Fellini on those films. He was a film genius and a very nice man. I also worked opposite the brilliant Orson Welles in "The Merchant of Venice". I’m sorry however to disappoint you regarding on-set gossip, but we were too busy just learning our lines and playing our parts. Of course I can’t speak for everyone during that wild era...(laughs)

Q: What was it like living and working in Rome as young actors?

A: It was a golden time in the Italian cinema.The Via Veneto was the great street where you brushed elbows with celebrities and movie people all over the place. During that period, Italy was producing 300 plus films a year. Those were exciting times to be an actor.

A young Maleeva during her
sketchcomedy days in Italy
Then the movies in Italy changed some twenty years ago and I haven’t made a film there in over ten years. European films now are chasing the dollars. They’re not making stories or character driven films as they used to do. Now, it’s films with an edge or all action.

Q: Just like today’s American movie industry.

A: Working in early American films I was usually cast as an Eastern European female with a heavy accent, even though I speak seven languages. I’ve been told that even my face has an accent, according to casting directors.

Irina Maleeva as the Countess in indie favorite
"Union City" starring Debbie Harry
Q: How much has the American film industry vs. the European changed?

A: In Europe, it appears there are more opportunities and good roles for actors who are over 60.

Q: And here in America?

Female actors are considered to be unemployable after thirty-five or so, with exceptions of course when it involves stars.

Q: But you’re still working today as an actor over sixty.

A: Yes, thank goodness, but not many people do what I do, have done, and can still do. I’m very fortunate. I came from an acting family. My mother was a successful Russian actress who began acting at age seven. She had a successful stage and film career. Later, she wrote several books on actresses in Hollywood.

Q: Speaking of working today, you have a new movie called "The Meddler" opening nationwide this month starring Susan Sarandon. What role do you play in it?

A: I play Angie, Susan’s sister-in-law from New York. Susan’s character has lost her husband and I help her get through her new widow-grieving process. It’s a broad comic role. It was a wonderful experience working with Susan and our amazing director Lorene Scafaria. Susan is such a generous and giving actor. I loved it.

Q:You also have a guest-starring role this spring on David Duchovny’s NBC series “Aquarius” in a segment called "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". What’s that about?

A: I play Vira, a sweet Ukrainian lady who turns out to be a murderess and a con-woman who causes problems for Duchovny’s cop character who is pursuing the Manson Family. Russian actress Ludmila Velikaia, who lives in San Diego, and I play two women in their sixties who are insurance fraud scam artists. We had a ball doing it.

Irina Maleeva with star David Duchovny
on the set of "Aquarius"
You know, getting serious for a minute, David is an interesting and very caring man. He shared a story with me as how he rescued a dog he found lying on the road one day on his way to the set. He stopped, put the animal in his car and drove it to a vet hospital, saving its life. The word ‘tohovny’ means a person with a lot of soul. David certainly has that. How many people stop on their way to work to rescue an animal lying on a road?

Q: Irina, I know you have a one-woman show called “Illusions", a musical memoir of a life well lived that you wrote and performed at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood last year. Do you have any plans to take it on the road somewhere?

A: I would love to, but I don’t have a theatrical agent to represent me in such a venture. It takes a lot of planning, getting a theatre, advance bookings, ticket sales, finding a good musical director. It's a lot of work, but hugely satisfying.
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Attention theatrical agents looking for professional clients with movie, television and live theatre experience and credits:  Irina Maleeva is a goldmine of a client, just waiting to perform her cabaret act for you and everyone.

To read more about the fascinating Maleeva, you can visit her webpage at http://www.irinamaleeva.com/, check out her YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/irinamaleeva, and her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Irina.Maleeva.Actor/.