Sunday, August 28, 2016


The cast of "Love's Labor's Lost" at San Diego's
Old Globe Theatre. All photos by Jim Cox.
The language of Shakespeare is transformative and universal in its power to elevate or debase in its dramatic form. In its comedy form it is a delight that explores and exposes the folly of humans and their foibles, especially when the influence of that pesky addictive drug called love comes into play (no pun intended).
In Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labors Lost”, currently on stage in the Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Outdoor Festival Theatre, the beauty and enjoyment of the production lies in its language and in the execution of the text under the inspired direction of three-time Tony-winner Kathleen Marshall, who makes her Old Globe directing debut with this production.
Jonny Orsini as King Ferdinand, 
Amara James Aja as Dumaine, 
Nathan Whitmer as Longaville, 
and Kieran Campion as Berowne
The tale centers around young King Ferdinand of Navarre (Jonny Orsini) and his three schoolmate lords: Berowne (Kieran Campion), Longaville (Nathan Whitmer) and Dumaine (Amara James Aja), who vow to embrace their studies and not the young ladies at the suggestion of Ferdinand who requests that he and his lords take an oath to forego all amorous entanglements for three years. But the minute they take the vow and sign the pledge, the Princess of France arrives with her three beautiful attendants. All bets, oaths, and agreements, naturally are now forgotten and off.
Kristen Connolly as Priness of France,
Pascale Armand as Rosaline,
Kevin Cahoon as Boyet,
Talley Beth Gale as Katherine,
and Amy Blackman as Maria
Period comedy is a study in the persuasiveness of romantic love versus the strengths of attraction and hormones. It’s not rocket science to figure out which force usually wins. Actually, they both do. Never doubt the power of love when it’s fortified by hefty doses of raging hormones. In that battle the hormones always win. 
Once in court, as bees to honey, the inevitable courting begins, despite the King’s reminding them of the oath that had each signed. When all meet for the first time natural attractions and selections take over including King Ferdinand for the Princess (Kristen Connolly), Rosaline (Pascale Armand), Maria (Amy Blackman, and Katherine (Talley Beth Gale).
Makha Mthembu as Jaquenetta, Patrick Kerr as
Sir Nathaniel, Stephen Spinella as Holofernes
and Jake Millgard as Dull
There are some wonderful supporting-role performances in this production, but with a cast of twenty-two artists, space can’t accommodate listing them all. That being said, however, there are always standouts and they include: Triney Sandoval as the braggart Don Adriano de Amado in a nice high energy comic turn, Greg Hildreth as the sly clown Costard, the possessor of great comedy timing who is an in-the-moment actor and Makha Mthembu as Jaquenetta the dairy maid girl friend of Costard livens the fleeting on stage comedy moments, while Kevin Cahoon as Boyet, the Princess’ gatekeeper/courtier and Patrick Kerr as the curate Sir Nathaniel both know how to milk a scene for maximum effect. Its great stuff and good fun.
Director Marshall nicely controls the onstage silliness that frothy, light Shakespearean rom-coms deliver to audiences while at the same time providing the actors the opportunity to enjoy themselves. When they have a good time we have a good time.
The cast of "Love's Labor's Lost" at the Old Globe
All photos by Jim Cox
Marshall leads a creative team that has brought their A-Team skill sets to the production. Multi Tony Award-winning Scenic Designer John Lee Beatty delivers a stunning set design that dominates the stage allowing the actors to perform their magic under a mood-inducing Lighting Design by Jason Lyons (no relation), which allow the beautiful costume designs of Michael Krass to be seen and fully appreciated. The Sound design by Sten Severson along with original music by Peter Golub, is under the baton of musical director Taylor Peckham, also are first rate.
“Love’s Labor’s Lost” is a splendid production to enjoy under the stars in the Globe’s Outdoor Festival Theatre. The play performs through September 18, 2016.

-- Jack Lyons


Josh Stamberg as Gerald and Jenna Fischer as Corky
 in Steve Martin's "Meteor Shower". All photos by Jim Cox
Steve Martin is a multi-talented creative artist and performer that has reached back with his new play to his 1960s counter-culture days on the Smothers Brothers TV show, where he played a wacky guy who dispensed cheeseburgers in comedy skits to the delight of his young audience.

Fifty years later those earlier audiences are now in their 70s and 80s and Martin is still drawing them into his comedy orbit, only this time he’s the playwright not that goofy cheeseburger slinging performer.

“Meteor Shower”, his latest play, is currently wowing audiences at the Old Globe with his far-out sense of humor that deals with the social mores of 1990s California. It has already been extended twice. Martin’s cleverly crafted comedy, peppered with adult situations and dialogue, is wickedly directed by Gordon Edelstein, artistic director of the famed Long Wharf Theatre of New Haven, Connecticut.

California, some claim, is a state of mind. In the past, it has dealt with flower children, Timothy Leary and LSD, Haight-Ashbury pot, TV driven mega-churches, along with evangelism, auto-centric grid-lock traffic and a host of fads too numerous to mention here. Guess what? California is still here. The life-style and the weather in the Golden State is still a dream that beckons and is worth pursuing.

Jenna Fischer, Greg Germann, Alexandra Henrikson
and Josh Stamberg in "Meteor Shower"
“Meteor Shower” is a fresh comedy take on those wild and crazy days of the sexual revolution in the 60s. Martin sets his production in Ojai, California, a community about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. In short, the action revolves around Norm (wackily played by Greg Germann) and his suburban wife Corky (Jenna Fischer) who invite another couple Gerald (an over-the-top narcissist/stud played to the hilt by Josh Stamberg) and his predatory wife Laura (sexily played by Alexandra Henrikson) to a backyard party to watch the evening meteor shower in the night sky.

As the stars come out and the cocktails flow, tempers flare, and the sparks fly – literally, according to program notes (but no spoiler alerts at this time). The dialogue and adult situations are not out of Edward Albee’s playbook as in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” , but are more in line with a super cool Neil Simon-like comedy spiced with touches of very sophisticated ‘naughty’. However one views it, the play is pretty damn funny, at least it was the night I attended. Judging by the laughs, I would say the females in the audience caught more of the essence of the dialogue and situations than the gentlemen by far.

Greg Germann and Josh Stamberg in
"Meteor Shower"
When one stops trying to figure out where this story is going and just lets the surreal action unfolding on the stage wash over oneself, you will have a much more enjoyable experience.

Jenna Fischer and
Greg Germann in
"Meteor Shower"
How could one not enjoy it? Director Edelstein has gathered four talented farceurs who know their way around a farce production when they find themselves in one.  Mr. Germann is a comic delight with rubbery facial expressions that speak volumes along with posture and great timing.  Ms. Fischer, the epitome of reserve in Act I, is a revelation in candor in Act II; a delicious case of the worm turning.

Alexandra Henrikson and
Josh Stamberg in
"Meteor Shower"
Mr. Stamberg is the kind of preening, no-woman-can-resist-my-charm male party guest you would love to spill a tray of drinks on. Ms. Henrikson, as the predatory Laura, does her best in that svelte red sheath with ruby-red lips to match as she unnerves both Corky and Norm.

Martin’s dialogue sparkles in a surrealist way, as long as you’re on his wavelength. If you’re not, you may miss his comic thrust of situations some think they would like to find themselves in.  But, be careful what you wish for…

Director Edelstein leads the creative team headed by scenic designer Michael Yeargan’s clever backyard set, lighted by designer Donald Holder, along with costumes designed by Jess Goldstein. The original music and sound design is by John Gromada.

“Meteor Shower” is a highly entertaining comedy production that performs in the round on the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre stage and will perform through September 18, 2016.

-- Jack Lyons

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg star in
Woody Allen's newest film "Cafe Society"
In a full disclosure confession up front, I have been a fan of Allen Konigsberg, aka Woody Allen, since I saw him perform stand-up comedy routines in clubs in Chicago, and of course, on TV.

When he moved from standup to TV and film writing, to acting, and directing in the late 60s and 70s,  I rarely missed a live comedy gig or a film he was connected with.  For me, Woody is the quintessential New York comedy writer/performer and the standard bearer of East Coast humor. He has, let us say, always had a thorny relationship with LA and West Coast culture, which he claimed never suited his lifestyle.  He even passed up accepting one of his three writing/directing Oscars at ceremonies held in Hollywood years ago. As an embedded New York playwright Allen, however, had to share the comedy crown with the King of comedy playwriting and movies, the nonpareil Neil Simon, eight years his senior.

Simon was more of a traditional linear writer who turned his life story into countless award-winning plays and movies.  Allen was the newbie champion of the nebbish, nerdy, Jewish social misfit of the counterculture 60s and 70s.  His writing was fresh, funny, and resonated big time with a younger society who was enjoying the benefits of the sexual revolution and the freedom to explore every aspect of American life to its fullest.

Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg in
Woody Allen's "Cafe Society"
“Café Society”, written and directed by Allen, once again takes us on a nostalgic journey back in time to the 1930’s. Gorgeously photographed by Academy Award- winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who makes the New York romantic sequences a picture-perfect postcard truly ‘made for a boy and a girl’, as the lyrics say in Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers’ iconic song tribute to the Big Apple in “I’ll Take Manhattan”.

Although the movie is stacked with solid actors and solid performances along with trenchant Allen dialogue dripping in self-deprecating zingers, some of which still have the bite of the Woody of old, it seems to be firing on just seven cylinders instead of the traditional eight.  When Allen places his story in Europe, for example, the languid pace works, as in "Midnight in Paris" and "To Rome with Love". But once back in the hustle and bustle of New York and L.A. the film slows down.

Allen is a sucker for romantic love stories. “In Café Society”, there are so many echoes of past Allen films: ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’, “To Rome with Love”, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, the highly popular and successful “Midnight in Paris”, and now “Café Society”.  Allen, at 80, is still relevant when he goes back in time to give us characters with which we we can identify.

Jesse Eisenberg, Corey Stoll and Laurel Griggs
in a scene from Woody Allen's "Cafe Society"
The story in short, revolves around a young New Yorker (think Woody Allen in his mid 20’s) Bobby Dorfman, terrifically played by Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg has steadily grown as an actor since his “Social Network” days; now he’s more confident and sure of himself as an actor. He shines as Bobby, who is tired of working in his father’s Jewelry business and moves to Hollywood in the 1930’s to work for his uncle Phil (Steve Carell) a powerful and well-connected movie agent. He soon falls for Phil’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), unaware that she is secretly having an affair with his uncle. Stewart and Eisenberg have worked together in three previous films and their on-screen chemistry is spot-on. Stewart’s ambition and vulnerability as Vonnie are two character flaws that drive her performance, making her interesting to watch on screen. Gone, thankfully, are her “Twilight” saga days.

Steve Carrell stars as Uncle Phil in
Woody Allen's "Cafe Society"
Steve Carrell keeps widening his range in the roles he tackles. His conflicted movie super-agent/husband is a case study of infidelity; he's a middle-aged man of power who feels his mortality and seeks to become younger by having a much younger woman as his partner - but not without the guilt pangs of leaving his wife and children in its wake. It’s a finely judged performance.

In time, a disillusioned Bobby returns home to New York to run a nightclub for his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll), where he meets and marries a beautiful divorcee Veronica (Blake Lively). Lively is a real stunner and captures the essence of the Hollywood of the 1930s. Despite her beauty and connections in Hollywood, she chooses Bobby to settle down with and raise a family. All is going well with Bobby and Veronica, until one evening when Phil and Vonnie walk into the now successful nightclub (echoes of “Casablanca”, an Allen film fave).

Jesse Eisenberg and Blake Lively in
Woody Allen's "Cafe Society" 
No one knows the New York milieu like Allen, except maybe for Martin Scorsese, when it comes to making movies about it. “Café Society” is vintage Allen replete with his team of technically gifted artists like production designer Santo Loquasto and costume designer Suzy Benzinger. However, a note to Allen is in order: At 80 years of age, the narrator’s voice either needs a shot of adrenaline before recording or Allen should hire a New York-raised voice-over actor to set the tone for one of the eight million stories in Allen’s ‘Naked City'.

“Café Society” is now playing on screens across the country.

-- Jack Lyons

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Matt Damon stars in "Jason Bourne",
the fourth film in the Bourne series

When the Jason Bourne franchise was launched in 2002 with Matt Damon playing the super-secret, “Black Ops” government assassin who didn’t know his own name or life back-story thanks to amnesia, the producers realized they had a gold mine of an action-driven series of films that they thought would go on forever: “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007), and now “Jason Bourne” in 2016.

In Hollywood, forever is usually about three or four films. After that, the “James Bond” syndrome begins to set in. Translation: the newness of the first film concept (and its conceits) gets devoured by fans who then expect the sharp, crisp writing and plotting to continue. When that doesn’t happen in the fourth film in the franchise - after all how many car chases and crashes can a film franchise endure? (even if some of film is staged in Las Vegas) before boring its faithful audience into a state of ennui?

As former Texas Senator Lloyd Benson famously said “When they say it’s not about the money… it’s about the money.”  In Hollywood, it’s always about the money. “Jason Bourne” earned $87 million at the box office from July through August 5th, and an additional $50.7 million in other markets, for a total box office of $138 million in just four weeks. The budget was $120 million. If one does the math, the box office receipts in future become the icing on the cash-cow cake. And money is power.

Having said all of this, the fourth film starring Damon delivers very little artistic new material surrounding the Jason Bourne saga. The story, in short, has Bourne once again on the run from CIA hit squads as he tries to uncover hidden truths about his past.

Matt Damon and Julia Stiles in "Jason Bourne"
When former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks into the agency database, she discovers evidence about its illegal assassination program and about Bourne’s recruitment. Now Bourne begins to understand who he truly is. After Parsons' breach, CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) orders CIA cyber head-hunter Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) to find the pair. Once the nasty “Asset” (Vincent Cassel) under the secret direction of Director Dewey, is given the okay to take out Damon and Stiles, the cat and mouse game between super-villain Cassel and good guys Damon and Stiles now begins in earnest.

Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander in "Jason Bourne"
There is a weak subplot that involves a Silicon Valley billionaire Aaron Kallor (Riz Ahmed) as the CEO and Founder of a company called Deep Dream with ties to questionable practices between his company and the U.S. government.

Critical reception has been generally mixed. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the flick three and a half stars out of a possible four; I think he was very generous. The lengthy cinematic piece-de- resistance segment that takes place on the Las Vegas strip is merely a demolition derby on steroids. Not a frame in this Vegas sequence has a scintilla of believability in it. The sound track delivered to the audience is slightly north of 4000 on the decibel scale. I think it’s a safe bet to say that the entire movie is an assault on the eyes and ears with sound and fury signifying nothing (with apologies to Bill Shakespeare).

In all fairness, however, this latest and perhaps the last movie of the Bourne saga isn’t targeted to anyone over 40. This age demographic doesn’t give a fig as whether the story makes any sense as long as the images fly by at warp speed. The actors and technical geniuses may be wasted in this effort that has cleverly cobbled together documentary footage of Europe on fire by protesters in the streets over the Arab spring in Egypt, the Athens Greece riots over their financial crisis and meltdown and other protesting factions located around the world.

If, however, you have some discretionary income lying about and you’re under 40 years of age, by all means partake of the Jason Bourne saga at a theatre near you. It is now in wide release. And remember, no texting to your friend sitting next to you during the movie. You might miss another one second image cut. However, I don’t think it makes any difference to the story.

-- Jack Lyons