Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Movies being shown today are surgically produced for specific audiences. Whether its millennials, baby-boomers, or seniors, producers have resorted to targeting audiences by their age demographic as a way of capturing more box office dollars.

Millennials are apparently are drawn to stories set in the dystopian future, loaded with visual pyrotechnics of super-human heroes, aliens, and end-of-world scenarios (matching the images they see 24/7 on their iPhones and home videos). Perhaps escapism is their way of expressing their displeasure with their lives in the 21st century.

The Baby-Boomers have territorial and film interests that live in two age demographics. Heavily influenced by the 60’s and 70’s that include the unpopular Viet Nam war and its aftermath, and the guilt over the success of consumerism at the expense of the American dream and its growing social and economic disparity, are just two issues that shaped the boomers’ stories, novels, and screenplays.

In the senior category age demographic, there is a bygone element when it comes to describing the interests of seniors  The popularity of “Turner Classic Movies” on television underscores their penchant for looking backward to a time when the world was less chaotic  A time when life moved at a pace that allowed society to adjust and better prepare for the inevitable Alpha and Omega ‘bell jar curve’ for the journey we all call life.

The epic British film “Dunkirk”, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, boldly incorporates its powerful text, photography, sound effects, and editing in its effort to cross age demographic lines to tell a human story of heroism that helped change the face of Europe and the world during those early and very dark days of World War II.

“Dunkirk”, opened nationwide on July 21, 2017. Obviously it’s too early to say how box office receipts will reflect the movie-going public’s interest concerning the plight of some 400,000 British, French, and allied soldiers trapped and facing annihilation by German troops on a slender stretch of a French beach in the city of Dunkirk during 1940. Only time, will tell us that.

America was not officially involved in “Europe’s War” with Hitler. Not until December 7, 1941 following the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by the Empire of Japan, did America declare war on Germany and the Axis powers.

Photo by Anders Rosqvist, Rosqvist Photography
I apologize for the didactic mini history lesson, but faced with the fact that very few American public schools no longer teach history, civics, geography, or even cursive writing, I feel a factual, historical backstory might prove helpful in putting the film in its proper perspective and provide better understanding of the events that took place 77 years ago.

Relatively speaking, there are no ‘star turns’ from “Dunkirk’s” actors that propel the movie forward. Nolan has decided that a non-linear ensemble approach works best for his film.  There are no “The Longest Day” sequences with stars recreating the effects that combat does to human beings.

In Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”, the audience was given glimpses, both physically and emotionally, of war’s capriciousness when it comes to who lives and who dies. One of the most powerful and devastating scenes in that movie, for me, was the scene where an American military vehicle is seen approaching a rural Midwest home as seen from the inside looking out the front door. As the American officer gets out with an envelope in hand and approaches the front porch, a middle age woman watching him approach slowly begins to slump, to melt, as it were. As each footstep gets closer and closer to the front door, she quietly begins to sob, while crawling toward the front door. The scene has no dialogue. It is one of the ‘purest’ cinematic moments in film history. No dialogue was necessary to convey the obvious message that war is the scourge of civilization.

Director Nolan films the events of the evacuation operation from Dunkirk back to England and temporary safety, by dividing those events into three segments. The ‘the land’ or beach sequences, the at sea sequences, and the aerial combat sequences. All three components were filmed in the actual locations, wherever possible. Everyone seen by the camera is fully engaged and in their on-screen moments reminding me of the verisimilitude of the great French film classic “The Battle for Algiers” that was shot documentary style, blurring the lines for the audience between scripted scenes and actual combat footage. It was all scripted.

“Dunkirk” also is a taut, riveting and immersive film experience, thanks to the herculean effort on the part of Nolan’s immensely talented technical team. Led by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, the cameras capture the smallest of details in the tiniest of spaces, as well as the sweeping shots of the action and mayhem taking place in all sequences. These scenes are not only intense but Hitchcock-ian in their use of the suspense aspect, especially while filming both above and below the water. The combat aerial photography also is spot-on and nail-biting. “Dunkirk”, like “The Battle for Algiers”, was totally scripted.

Nolan has assembled a wonderful ensemble cast of principal actors to tell the “Dunkirk” story led by Kenneth Branagh, as Naval Commander Bolton, who must make the critical decisions involved in the evacuation. The cast also includes: Academy Award winner Mark Rylance, as civilian flotilla boat owner Mr. Dawson, Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden as RAF pilots, James D’Arcy as Colonel Winnant, Harry Styles as soldier Alex, Fionn Whitehead as soldier Tommy, Aneurin Barnard as Gibson, and Cillian Murphy as a battle-fatigued soldier.

Director Christopher Nolan, production designer Nathan Crowley, film editor Lee Smith, and an army of sound editors and technicians should all be on the 90th Oscar’s nominations list come March 4, 2018.  These people created the designs for all the grittiness, grime, and realism seen and heard on the screen. A clever directorial touch by Nolan is the continuous sound track of either airplane engines, music or sound effects of bullets or bombs thudding into bodies on the ground or piercing the fuselages of the airplanes. That creative input originally came from “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo” with the continuous sound of airplane engines droning throughout all the air sequences to heighten the tension and keep the viewers focused on the visuals and the bombing mission at hand.

If I had any misgivings or disappointment with the production, it would come in the form of the music and sound effects, great as they are, being played too loud; drowning out some of the dialogue. Dialogue is usually the best way to communicate and thanks to NPR, the BBC, and Masterpiece Theatre, we Yanks are getting better at understanding those unfamiliar and challenging, accents of Northern England, London, the southern coast and the west-country.

The thrust and premise of Nolan’s movie, none the less, is magnificently produced and stirringly summed up at the conclusion by English Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous and inspiring words of his “we will never surrender” speech to his countrymen and the free world, which still resonate today.

“Dunkirk” is now in general release in a theatre or a multiplex near you.  Don’t Miss It.


Stephenie Soohyun Park stars as Lauren
in "King of the Yees". All photos by Craig Schwartz.
California native Lauren Yee is an award-winning playwright with an impressive resume; the 30-something's work has been rewarded with prestigious awards (including the American Theatre Critics Association's Francesca Primus Prize), commissions from such esteemed theatre companies as Geffen Playhouse, La Jolla Playhouse, Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3, South Coast Repertory, Portland Center Stage and Trinity Repertory Company and has formed a successful partnership with Chicago's Goodman Theatre.

Her most recent Goodman production, "King of the Yees" is making its West Coast debut at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre with the original Chicago cast and director.

It's a funny, satirical, emotional roller-coaster of a play, part journey of self discovery, part fantasy exploration of a culture at risk of falling into obsolescence.

Stephenie Soohyun Park and Larry Jue are father
and daughter in "King of the Yees"
Playwright Yee places herself and her father, Lawrence "Larry" Yee as the central characters in the show, and utilizes a variety of theatrical styles from audience participation to slo-mo "Matrix" inspired fight sequences (wonderfully choreographed by Chuck Coyle) and a multi-media depiction of real-life characters like disgraced California State Senator Leland Yee and fictional Chinese Tong mobster "Shrimp Boy."

It all sounds a bit chaotic and unfocused initially. But during the two hour playing time, the story coalesces into a heartfelt journey of father and daughter who are more alike than either suspects. The scene where they reach across the span of the generation gap, attempting to fill the hole left by Lauren's lack of connection to her Chinese heritage, had more than a few audiences members genuinely tearing up.

Stephenie Soohyun
Park as Lauren in
"King of the Yees"
Francis Jue as Larry
in "King of the Yees"
The performances are uniformly strong; Stephenie Soohyun Park captures Lauren's nervous intelligence and vulnerability beneath the bravado her Yale MFA affords her. Francis Jue charms as father Larry, a former AT&T phone installer turned community activist. His pain at the potential loss of his daughter to her husband and writing career in Berlin is barely concealed behind his glad-handed persona. 

As the self-appointed godfather of Chinatown's Yee dynasty and president of the Yee Fung Toy cultural association, Larry singularly carries the hopes of a waning community on his slender shoulders.

Daniel Smith, Rammel Chan and
Stephenie Soohyun Park in "King of the Yees"
A series of colorful supporting characters are given life by three actors: Actor One Daniel Smith, Actor Two Angela Lin and Actor Three Rammel Chan.They each make the most of their memorable onstage moments showing great range and comic timing.

Director Joshua Kahan Brody, also a Yale MFA grad, has a finely tuned relationship with Yee's sensibility and brings a delicate touch to what could be merely amusing in another director's hands. 

Angela Lin and Stephenie Soohyun
Park in "King of the Yees"
His excellent technical team includes scenic designer William Boles, costume designer Izumi Inaba, lighting designer Heather Gilbert, sound designer Mikhail Fiksel, and projection design by Mike Tutaj.

Kudos also to the Center Theatre Group for their continued dedication to discovering and nurturing new voices in American theater.

For anyone who longs to reconnect with their family roots and traditions, "King of the Yees" is a satisfying trip of discovery.

The show plays now through August 6 at the Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd, Culver City. Tickets can be purchased through the website

-- Lisa Lyons

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


The cast of "At Tonight's Performance" Front: Bruce Turk, Sierra Jolene, Paul Turbiak; Back: John Nutten, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Katie MacNichol. All photos by Aaron Rumley, North Coast Repertory.

Comedy/Farce is a tricky genre to do well. Many theatre companies in America have tried to mount successful productions over the years but, somehow, they always come up short. To do the genre well, theatrical companies need trained, gifted actors and directors to fill the roles of crazy, deluded, egomaniacal, hyper-active, and child-like characters, and do it with style, elan, and relish the experience above all. That’s a large wish-list of requirements that have to be fulfilled.

I’m happy to report that such a needs list is no problem for the cast of talented theatre professionals currently treading the boards of the North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT) production of playwright Nagle Jackson’s comedy/farce “At This Evening’s Performance”.

Wonderfully directed by Andrew Barnicle, the production boasts some of Southern California’s finest comedy actors, some of whom are familiar to audiences of NCRT. Director Barnicle, also a fine actor who was last seen by NCRT audiences in “Faded Glory” and the popular “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Great Nome Gold Rush”, gathers a cast of solid farceurs who know what to do on stage when they find themselves in a farce.

Playwright Jackson sets his play-with-a play format in the fictional country of Dunsk, a totalitarian regime somewhere in the Balkans under the autocratic rule of Minister of Cultural Affairs Pankoff (John Nutten). The story revolves around a second-rate acting company owned by harried husband and actor Gunther Posnik (Bruce Turk) and his bored actress wife Hippolyta Posnik (Katie MacNichol). Turk and MacNichol are a Balkan version of the ‘Battling Bickersons’. Their first goal, however, is to avoid offending the state cultural affairs minister Pankoff. If they do, they risk being placed on his ‘list’, a list no one wants to be on. Their second goal is to keep the company together and performing until their talents will be recognized resulting in the company being named the State Theatre of Dunsk. The theatre has been waiting for years to be discovered. But hope springs eternal in Dunsk.

Katie MacNichol, Sierra Jolene, Paul Turbiak, 
Bruce Turk, Kyle Colerider-Krugh in 
"At Tonight's Performance"
In farce, there are always romantic and passionate liaisons where loyalties change at the drop of a hat. Then there are the hush, hush meetings, slamming of doors, and secrets to be revealed. The play is a goofy, but affectionate, send-up of actors and acting where the on-stage characters deliver their lines in stentorian, over-the-top-declamatory and hammy performances, but back in their ‘dressing room’ the dialogue is fast, furious and hilarious. Timing, it’s been said cannot be taught. Either, one has it or not. In this production everyone has it.In addition to Turk, MacNichol, and Nutten, the production is also blessed with actors Paul Turbiak as Piers, who plays the romantic leading man roles, Richard Baird as Valdez, the menacing, intense, and crazed stage manager who constantly intimidates the actors, Kyle Colerider-Krugh as Oskar, plays the old man parts with terrific comedy timing, and the lovely Sierra Jolene as the ingénue Saskia, who has romantic liaisons with anyone who can be of help to her in her career. Ahh, for the life of the itinerant actor back in the 1970’s…but just not in the country of Dunsk.

There are plot echoes of the old Jack Benny 1942 movie “To Be or Not To Be” with Carole Lombard as the theatre company owners, and the 1983 Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft movie remake that will jog your memories, if you’re old enough. Director Barnicle cleverly co-opts the basic premise and then adds his inspired directorial touches allowing his talented ensemble cast to strut their stuff.

It’s a thing of beauty to behold when a cast of professionals are really ‘cooking’ up on the stage. Sorry, but no spoiler alerts here where character antics are rampant and sometimes just plain silly. You must come and see for yourself. My advice is to just let the silliness and fun of the production wash over you. You’re not watching a play about discovering radium or a mystery that needs constant engagement and focus. It’s a farce production and a damn funny one. Enjoy. You’ll leave the theatre refreshed and entertained.

Katie MacNichol, Bruce Turk, Paul Turbiak, 
Sierra Jolene in "At Tonight's Performance"
The costume designs of Elisa Benzoni are spot on; colorful and functional, except for Turk’s prop mustache that keeps (intentionally) falling off, and Oskar’s fake ears that keep turning up in the oddest places. It’s a farce remember. The sound design is by Aaron Rumley, with props design by Andrea Gutierrez, and Hair and Wig design by Peter Herman complete the technical team.

In the technical department the creative team led by director Barnicle features the technical wizardry of set designer Marty Burnett, and lighting designer Matt Novotny, who deliver a “green room” backstage area where the actors let their hair down and needle one another with sparkling dialogue. When the characters have to perform “on stage”, the magic happens and the audience becomes part of the production, so to speak.

“At This Performance”, now on stage at North Coast Repertory Theatre is an excellent example of what a farce production can be in the hands of professional, talented actors and a creative director. The play runs through August 6, 2017.

-- Jack Lyons

Friday, July 14, 2017


Matt Zambrano and the ensemble of "In the Heights" - Photos by Paul Hayashi

When the Palm Canyon Theatre (PCT) of Palm Springs, CA opened its doors twenty years ago it made a promise to the community to bring professional-quality, theatrical entertainment to the Coachella Valley. Thanks to the efforts, dedication and vision of the Layne family of theatre professionals – a family rich in producers, actors, directors, designers, and choreographers – PCT has not broken that promise.

I’ve been reviewing their productions for the same twenty years beginning with the opening musical production “The Desert Song”, to their current musical “In the Heights” that opened to standing ovations last Friday, July 7th.

Mind you, there have bumps along the rocky road of producing top theatre entertainment over the years, however, their quality track record is long in Desert Theatre League (DTL) award-winning and praise-worthy productions. Who can forget such wonderful past musicals as: “Man of La Mancha”, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “Cats”, “My Fair Lady”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Les Miserable” “A Chorus Line” and many, more.  My apologies if I left off one of your favorites. But these come quickly to mind, and I didn’t even mention the dramas and comedies.

Meagan Van Dyke, Adina Lawson
and Benjamin Perez. 
PCT can now add “In the Heights” to its roll call of fabulous musical productions.  With music and lyrics, by double Tony-award winning playwright, actor and director Lin Manuel Miranda (he of “Hamilton” fame) along with a poignant libretto by Quiara Alegria Hudes, this high energy musical, terrifically and seamlessly directed by Shafik Wahhab, is a true ensemble effort both on stage (there are twenty performers) and backstage, with another three-stage crew and production ‘techies’ that help make the onstage magic happen. One can only imagine the traffic-management issues taking place backstage that make the onstage action look so smooth and effortless. It’s one of PCT’s best, dynamic and germane technical efforts and it’s a crowd-pleaser.

The scenic design by Shafik Wahhab and Ross Hawkins and the lighting design by resident theatre design wizard J.W. Layne, and sound design by Lyla Cordova, make sure their talented singers and dancers have the space and lights to perform the high-octane dance routines created by Jacqueline Le Blanc. The musical score that features 23 musical numbers in the capable hands of musical director Scott Smith is both infectious and compelling with sizzling Latin rhythms like Salsa and Merengue performed in costumes either selected by or created by designer Derik Shopinski and his assistants Virginia Sulick and Delinda Angelo.

Haley Izurieta, Allegra Angelo,
Meagan Van Dyke and Megan Ramirez. 
There will no doubt be audience members who feel they have seen this story before; echoes of “West Side Story” and “Romeo and Juliet” story points do jump out. But hey, that’s pretty heady company to be in. If you’re a fan of classic plays or modern America musicals about immigrant population issues and the role they play in our 21st century society and audiences, then you will love what the creative team does with “In the Heights”.

The story, in short, explores three blistering hot summer days in a neighborhood in NYC known as Washington Heights on the upper west side, overlooking the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge. It’s a neighborhood that has been going through changes and is now a neighborhood of mostly Latino residents.

Allegra Angelo, Matt Zambrano
Heading a cast of twenty characters is first generation Dominican-American entrepreneur Usnavi, the owner of the local bodega. He is thinking about returning to the Dominican Republic to reconnect with his family and friends following the death of his parents.  Usnavi, is winningly played and sung by Matt Zambrano. Support of ‘family’ and family related emotional issues have always been extremely important to the Latino community.

“In the Heights”, also chronicles the daily struggles of the neighborhood in its day to day existence of raising families, paying the rent and trying keep one’s business from going bankrupt, along with the age-old frustration of the younger residents in not being able to make their own choices in their searches for love, romance, and marriage.

Ian Tang
With a cast as large as this one, it’s always a challenge to list everyone due to space limitations; however there are always standout performances. Heading a cast of twenty performers, including Zambrano’s lead character of Usnavi, is lovely Meagan Van Dyke as Nina, a university student in love with Benny (Joey Wahhab) an employee in her father’s business. Van Dyke, the possessor of a sweet soprano voice is very compelling as a conflicted young woman in love and at odds with her parent’s decisions when it comes to her future.

Nina’s father and mother are solidly played and sung by Benjamin Perez and Adina Lawson. Allegra Angelo, as Vanessa, the love interest of Usnavi, once again turns in another stellar dance and acting turn. Her Mimi performance in the College of the Desert production of “Rent” two seasons ago still resonates. Suzie Wourms, multiple Desert Theatre League award winner, also scores, in a little gem of a performance as Abuela Claudia, in her numbers with Zambrano and the company.

Matt Zambrano and Suzie Wourms.
The principal dancers in this outstanding production are technically and visually stunning in their execution and deserve a mention of their own despite space restrictions. The men are Vertarias Black, who floats in the air in his numbers, Ian Tang, Mat Tucker, Adrian Fernando Vera, Daniel Zepeda, Scott Clinkscales, and Jacob Samples as Piragua Guy deliver the testosterone at all the right moments.The ladies are Marella Sabio as Graffiti Street, who is mesmerizing in her explosive and high energy routines, Haley Izurieta, Megan Ramirez, Ileana Mendoza, Kate Antonov, and Maglia Sabio all provide the sizzling sensuality required in their performances.

The beauty of “In the Heights” lies in the ensemble performances of the entire company where everyone is unselfish, fully engaged, in the moment, committed and dedicated. When performing companies get into this ‘zone’, as they say, it’s a joy to behold and the audience knows it and feels it as well.

This splendid production performs at the Palm Canyon Theatre, in Palm Springs through July 16, 2017.  For reservations and ticket information call the box office at 760-323-5123.  Don’t Miss It!

-- Jack Lyons

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Allen Leech and Ginnifer Goodwin star in the Los Angeles premiere of “Constellations” at the Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Chris Whitaker

What are the odds of a play, whose premise is underpinned with quantum physics, bees, and the seductive power of love that brings two disparate souls together,turning into a riveting evening of intellectual theatre?  Pretty slim, I’d say. And then I saw the play.

“Constellations”, a poignant drama written by British playwright Nick Payne, now on stage at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, is deftly staged by award-winning director Giovanna Sardelli and validates the acting gifts of its two stars: pixie-like Ginnifer Goodwin and handsome leading man Allen Leech (best known for his six-year run in the TV blockbuster series “Downton Abbey” as the family chauffeur).

Two-handers – plays that have just two characters – are becoming more popular these days in the age of budget restrictions, except for musicals. These production caveats now place the burden of entertaining the audience squarely on the talent of playwrights, performers and directors, without the benefits of all the bells and whistles of money infused and promotion-driven productions. Most of the time bold, creative, artists pull off the delicate balance of engaging and entertaining the audience at the same time (last year I reviewed the winning two-hander “Heisenberg”, in New York, which opened today with the original NY cast at the Mark Taper Forum).

“Constellations” is another good example of insightful writing in the hands of a stellar director and her two star performers. The compelling story of Marianne (Ginnifer Goodwin), a quirky, Cambridge University academic who specializes in in Quantum Physics, and Roland (Allen Leech), a non-college educated bee keeper, who meet at a BBQ party at the home of friends would seem implausible in a traditional play. In this dramedy of sorts, both are shy guests and tend to stay in the background to observe the other guests.

From the moment the stage lights come up, the opening dialogue is repeated several times.The same words, only with different emphasis and timing, leading one to think that a stage glitch had just occurred. No; the repetitive dialogue is intentional. Marianne, we discover, lives in several alternate parallel universes. If the play was meant to be read not performed, the dialogue would come across as a classic quantum physics theoretical essay, except that it’s being performed by live actors on a stage. The obscure world of quantum physics is the world that Marianne inhabits. Roland is a creature of the outdoors and nature, and he is clueless as to quantum physics, but nevertheless he is strangely drawn into this odd coupling and relationship. As Marianne and Roland are two lonely people, could love be in the air? You bet it is. Remember, it’s the most powerful force on our planet.

Allen Leech and Ginnifer Goodwin in
“Constellations”. Photo by Chris Whitaker.
The set design by Takeshi Kata envelops the actors in a way that lends credence to the parallel universe concept. Goodwin and Leech perform in front of a huge ‘cyc’ that displays the cosmos with twinkling stars and planets, and their parallel universe moments are cued by the dialogue. With so many stars and planets, each possibly with a story of their own to tell, there are as many choices in life as there stars is in our universe is the message that playwright Payne is selling. Who knows? Our life journeys are all about making multiple choices. The “what if” factor is a real constant that has to be considered. Director Sardelli skillfully and seamlessly navigates some tricky waters in doing justice to playwright Payne’s murky but compelling tale of love of among the mismatched quirky set as viewed through the lens of quantum physics.

The real beauty to this intriguing and poignant production lies in the hands of its two stars, their onstage chemistry and in their stunning ‘in-the-moment’ performances. There are some spoiler alert moments, but you will not get them from me. You will just have to come to the Geffen Playhouse and see for yourself. Enough cannot be said about Goodwin and her tic-filled, intense portrayal of Marianne. Leech is her equal when it comes to the heart-rending twists that fate has handed these two lovers. Three hankies for the women, one for the gentlemen – yes if you have hearts, that is.

Director Sardelli leads the technical team of scenic designer Takeshi Kata, lighting designer Lap Chi Chu, costume designer Denitsa Bliznakova, and original music & sound designer Lindsay Jones.

“Constellations”, performs at the Geffen Playhouse and runs through to July 23, 2017. Don’t Miss It!
-- Jack Lyons

Monday, July 10, 2017


Marcel Spears as “Will” and Brenna Coates as “Jolene” in La Jolla Playhouse’s AT THE OLD PLACE, by Rachel Bonds, directed by Jaime Castañeda. All photos by Jim Carmody
It appears that the famous North Carolina novelist and writer Thomas Wolfe, was correct in his observation about ‘one not being able to go home again’.

I’ve often mused over the verity of that phrase. However, after seeing a production of “At the Old Place” at the prestigious La Jolla Playhouse, by playwright Rachel Bonds, I’m of the mind that perhaps, there are reasons why even biblical prophets were not honored in their hometowns. It’s possible that the people didn’t understand what the storytellers were saying.

In “At the Old Place”, the story, set in rural Richmond, Virginia, centers around Angie (Heidi Armbruster) who is trying to come to grips with any guilt and closure that occurs following the death of her mother and the unrequited issues that linger and eventually fall to her for resolution. One unfinished piece of business that takes her back is the sale of her mother’s house.Ms. Bonds’ dramedy/nostalgia piece, directed by Jaime Castenada, leaves one perplexed even to the point of what is this playwright trying to tell us about the four characters she has created for this play? What are we supposed know about them in order to engage with them and their reasons for being onstage? After all, the idea behind writing a play, movie, or book is to communicate the author’s the ideas and feeling with one’s readers, viewers, or live audiences. N’est-ce pas?
Heidi Armbruster as “Angie” in La Jolla 
Playhouse’s AT THE OLD PLACE
Children usually see life and family events through a different lens than adults. When adults finally do ‘go home again’ either to grieve, or handle the estate as in Angie’s case, we often bring our old family memories and our old baggage with us.
It’s not very clear where this very thin storyline – where nothing happens or anything of substance takes place – is going and the banal dialogue that is spoken doesn’t provide any indication either. To make matters worse the set design by Lauren Helpern doesn’t do the cast any favors by placing the house way up stage center, to the effect that a great deal of the dialogue is lost to the audience.Angie returns to the home to check on final details on the selling of the house, only to find two young people drinking and snacking in her front yard. They apparently know that no one lives there because the For Sale sign has no Sold banner across its front. Twenty three-year-old Will (Marcel Spears) and potty-mouth eighteen-year-old Jolene (Brenna Coates) are non-threatening, but resent having been asked to leave what they have come accept as their hangout. A fourth character Harrison (Benim Foster) turns up later in the play, to become the only ‘adult sounding’ person in room.
Heidi Armbruster as “Angie” and Benim Foster as 
“Harrison” in La Jolla Playhouse’s AT THE OLD PLACE
Director Castenada is complicit here. Why didn’t he and his designer merely move the house closer to the audience? The blocking would remain the same, but at least the audience would able to hear the dialogue, which at times is swallowed or mumbled so low by Angie and Will in their exchanges that it becomes a chore just trying to remain focused on the action taking place on stage.

I mentioned earlier that Harrison (Benim Foster) appears to be the only adult in the play, however, even he cannot (in only a few on stage moments) bring any clarity to this 89 minute, no intermission, theatrical adventure. My disappointment is with the playwright and the director both of whom have credits galore. The actors and the technical team very rarely disappoint, despite the narrative text. This time I’m afraid the dark and murky side carries the day. 
One might ask out loud What were they thinking? Jolene, on the other hand, has the vocal power to drown out everyone on stage. Her excitable, potty-mouthed dialogue that the teenagers of today love to deliver at warp speed is full of expletives – I stopped counting the F-Bombs that Jolene hurls from the stage at fifty plus, in the first 15 minutes of the play – robs the audience from staying engaged. I don’t care that this is how some teenagers speak these days. It’s off-putting; making the audience tune out when expletive-driven dialogue and story points made, go on ad nauseam. Have today’s playwrights given up the trusty old Thesaurus as a means for coming up with synonyms? It makes one wonder. Back in the Roman days some playwrights wrote for their own pleasure, not to be performed by actors, it was called ‘closet drama’. It was a format that never caught on…

The La Jolla Playhouse is one of the country’s leading Regional theatres. Congratulations go to Artistic Director Chris Ashley and the Playhouse on winning a 2017 Tony Award for his splendid direction of the musical “Come From Away”.The creative team led by Castenada has a set design by the above-mentioned designer Lauren Helpern, with lights by Lap Chi Chu, and sound by Melanie Chen.

“At the Old Place”, performs in the Mandell Weiss Forum and runs through July 30, 2017.

--Jack Lyons