Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Grantham Coleman in the title role of Hamlet. All photos by Jim Cox
Hamlet has to be the most ‘traveled’ character in all of theatrical performed history. The play has been around for over 400 hundred years and still has the power to draw actors and audiences together in celebration of Shakespeare’s, arguably, most fascinating and enigmatic character.

The richness and poetry of Shakespeare’s text in spinning a multifaceted tale of tragedy, revenge, duplicity, and death are the elements that have seduced actors as well as audiences around the world, and its been performed in all languages.

“Hamlet” once again graces the Lowell Davies Outdoor Festival stage as part of the Old Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival. The ‘melancholy Dane’ and his travails is crisply directed by the Old Globe’s Erna Finci Viterbi artistic director Barry Edelstein, who caps off another winning season of plays and musicals selected and produced under his stewardship.

The cast of Hamlet at The Old Globe
This “Hamlet” production boasts a cast of twenty talented, dedicated and committed performers, who despite a slight technical glitch as the play began on opening night, then settled in, found its light-comedy as well as its drama footings and delivered solid and nuanced performances by all.

Edelstein’s personal vision for this production sees the characters not as British or American accented performers, but as ‘people’ speaking as characters caught up in the time period of the play. His decision to eschew accents is a bit of a boon for American audience ears, in that most are not finely tuned to the sounds of Shakespearean iambic pentameter dialogue. However, the cast of Old Globe-trained classic actors nicely bridge the accent gaps that other theatre productions employed, and this standard American/English speaking version of “Hamlet” is all the better for it.

Twenty performers on stage can be a challenge for directors, scenic, and lighting designers. However, the creative talent of Scenic Designer Tim Mackabee (who brilliantly designed the world premiere production of “Robin Hood” currently playing in the Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White venue), gives the actors a generous space staging area for the castle battlements, for banquets, for the-play-within-the play requirements, for duels, all accomplished with clever platforms and different levels. Lighting director Stephen Strawbridge insures that we will able to see the gorgeous costumes designed by Cait O’Connor with his mood-inducing lighting plot.

Talley Beth Gale as Ophelia, Grantham 
Coleman as Hamlet, Michael Genet as 
Player King, and Christina A. Okolo as 
Player Queen in Hamlet
The story of “Hamlet” deals with a young Danish prince who is summoned home to Denmark from school in Germany to attend his father’s funeral. He is shocked to learn that his mother Queen Gertrude has already remarried. The Queen is now wed to Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, the dead King’s brother. Hamlet is disgusted by the marriage calling it ‘foul incest’.

When a ghost-like apparition of Hamlet’s father appears to Hamlet and his friend Horatio, Hamlet is told by the spirit that Claudius, his brother, murdered him by pouring poison into his ear; stealing his life, his kingdom, and his wife. The ghost tells Hamlet that he must avenge his murder.

The revenge plan that Hamlet hatches will impact all those around him. His mother, his step-father Claudius, Ophelia his love interest, his friends, and his sanity. There is always a price to pay, however, when the revenge is fueled by hate, which in turn, drives hasty and ill thought-out decisions. Shakespeare did not call his play the “Tragedy of Hamlet” for nothing. As we watch in awe the machinations of the characters, one gets to step back for a moment to appreciate how sublime is the playwright’s construction and how meaty the roles that are available in Shakespeare’s masterpiece. It’s also a treasure trove of quotable sayings that are still in use in everyday 21st century life.

Grantham Coleman as Hamlet Patrick Kerr as
Polonius, Kevin Hafso-Koppman as Rosencrantz
and Nora Carroll as Guildenstern in Hamlet
The upside to some of the downside text, however, lies in the performances of the players. Some purists may be disappointed with director Edelstein’s decision to embrace diversity in the casting of actors of color. But stories of yesteryear, even when it comes to the Bard, have been known to break with tradition. Hamlet, for example, has been played by many women over the years; Diane Venora, in 1983 performed as Hamlet in New York’s famous “Public Theatre” venue run by Joe Papp.

Last year the great British actress Dame Glenda Jackson, at 80 years of age, took on the herculean role of King Lear, and received stellar reviews in the process. But then, Dame Glenda is a wonder. In Shakespeare’s day all the women’s parts were played by men. It was English theatre law. We’re now in the 21st century. Just as the English language is constantly evolving, so too is the manner and fashion of how we stage and mount our productions. “Hamilton”, the 2017 Tony Winning musical is a case in point as to diversity casting and its acceptance by audiences who have seen and raved about the show.

Opal Alladin as Queen Gertrude and
Grantham Coleman as Hamlet
The company of players assembled by director Edelstein is first rate, and the performance of Hamlet played by rising star Grantham Coleman is an actor to watch. He is handsome, has charisma, on stage presence and power and is blessed with an abundance of talent that Noel Coward called ‘star quality’. His range runs the gamut from the giddy to a controlled, almost reckless madness in his scenes with Claudius, Gertrude, and Ophelia. It’s riveting stuff to watch.

Complementing Coleman’s performance in this “Hamlet” production, is the potent performance of Cornell Womack as King Claudius. It’s a tough, under-appreciated, role by the audience, and he does it without going over the top. Womack neatly threads that tiny needle opening with style and assurance. Opal Alladin as Queen Gertrude, a mother who serves two masters: her son Hamlet, and her own earthly ambitions makes the most of her family situation until fate steps in.

Grantham Coleman as Hamlet and Michael
Genet as The Ghost of Hamlet's Father
Solid support comes from Michael Genet as The Ghost of Hamlet’s father, the role of the Player King and as the gravedigger. All three portrayals are stellar winning performances. Talley Beth Gale’s Ophelia, is properly youthful in act one and her meltdown into madness in act two is strangely compelling to watch. Patrick Kerr’s Polonius is weasel-like and whinny, but he gets to utter some of Shakespeare’s best quoted lines, like the advice “… Neither a borrower nor a lender be…” that he gives to his son Laertes who is planning a trip to Paris. Laertes, in act two is fiercely played by Jonny Orsini, as a man on a revenge mission. Horatio, Hamlet’s loyal friend, also is nicely played by Lorenzo Landini.

Grantham Coleman as Hamlet and
Talley Beth Gale as Ophelia
The ensemble actors who portray multiple characters also are always in their on stage moments. Kudos to stage manager Pamela Salling and her crew who keep the on stage and back stage personnel on their cues and on their toes. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, in order to make everything seamlessly flow for the audience.

“Hamlet” is a potently acted production that will win over audiences if embraced by Old Globe audiences who may still be yearning for the good old days of the twentieth century. But, times and theatre productions and their styles; they are a ‘changin’. We all need to get on board.

“Hamlet” now performing in the Lowell Davies Outdoor Festival Theatre is an impressive and entertaining evening of theatre that runs through September 10, 2017.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Adam Langdon and the Ensemble of THE CURIOUS

The Tony Award-winning play THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME has landed at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles in all it's digitized, breathtaking splendor and it's quite an illuminating trip. Director Marianne Elliot, award-winning director of WAR HORSE, and the original London and Broadway productions, propels the audience into the mind of Christopher, an autistic teenager (Adam Langdon) who is definitely on the autism spectrum, although his diagnosis is never directly identified in the play. It was based on the book by Mark Haddon and was adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens.

In the opening scene we are greeted with the moonlit figure of a large dog impaled with a pitchfork and a shaken Christopher standing over the animal, overcome with emotion. It is soon revealed that someone killed Wellington the dog who belongs to a neighbor and by virtue of proximity Christopher is the prime suspect. But as the arriving police officer discovers, things are not always what they seem; an attempt to handle Christopher results in a terrifying outburst of pain and fear that he experiences by being touched by another person. 

We get to see the narrow emotional world that Christopher inhabits, one that he has adjusted to and thrived within. He is a mathematical savant, an admirer of Sherlock Holmes who uses his prodigious mental gifts to solve the mysteries of life in a most precise and often endearing manner. But it is his emotional gifts that need tending.

Christopher is enrolled at a special needs school where his counselor Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez) encourages him to channel his energy and creativity into writing a journal of his efforts to solve the murder of the dog Wellington. Christopher is being raised by his hardworking handyman father Ed (Gene Gillette) with enormous patience and protectiveness. 

Adam Langdon and Maria Elena
Ed fights for his son to have as normal a life as possible, battling with school administrators who want to deny Christopher an opportunity to sit for his A Level maths exams (the UK equivalent of advanced AP courses/PSAT exams) at the age of only 15 years. With a visible mixture of guilt and melancholy, Ed does the best he can for the son who he cannot hold.
Gene Gillette and Adam Langdon in
As with most young geniuses, Christopher is single-minded in his belief that his superior logic skills will help him uncover Wellington's murderer, despite his father's warnings to leave things alone and not go poking his nose into other people's business. But do kids ever listen? No. That's lucky for the audience who follow down the rabbit hole of Christopher's racing mind.

The show hurtles along at breakneck speed, beautifully creating the sights and sounds of London as perceived by Christopher - flashing lights, ambient sounds, a parkour-like movement scheme that had the audience cheering (wonderfully choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett), executed by a hardworking ensemble who play multiple roles throughout the play.

Adam Langdon as Christopher in THE
Along the way to solving Wellington's murder, Christopher makes a startling personal discovery that leads him to run away from home and venture alone on the London Underground to seek out his missing mother whom he thought dead. His bravery is tested by difficult, unknown circumstances; things that would be commonplace to most of us, like finding a railway station, buying a ticket and learning how to jump onto a train and read a subway map are daunting. But he is truly on a quest and, like most questers, his determination will carry the day.

Fully bringing the world view of autism to life is not easy, but this talented, versatile cast handles it masterfully. Playing a Rain Man-type character can be tricky, so it is to the credit of actor Langdon that we are not put off by his quirks and intense, gangly physicality that is a grueling nightly ordeal (another talented actor Benjamin Wheelwright performs the Saturday and Sunday matinees). Actors Gillette, Ramirez and particularly Felicity Jones Latta as Christopher's errant mother are able to create and sustain an empathetic, emotional climate throughout.

The ensemble gets a nod here: Amelia White as a compassionate neighbor; Kathy McCafferty as the school principal and Brian Robert Burns, John Hemphill, Geoffrey Wade, Francesca Choy-Kee, Robyn Kerr and J. Paul Nicholas all contribute multiple portrayals to support the action.

Amelia White and Adam Langdon in
Most of the technical team are from the original British production and their work adds to the emotional weight of the piece. They include Bunny Christie (Scenic & Costume Design), Paule Constable (Lighting Design), Finn Ross (Video Design), Adrian Sutton (Music), and Ian Dickinson (Sound Design).

The production has some slight problems mostly due to the flashy visuals and thundering sound (off-putting to many elderly patrons), and quite honestly the Ahmanson seems a bit too large of a house for this tale. Maybe the venerable Mark Taper Forum would have been a better fit? 

I found the themes that underlie the play to have great resonance - perhaps many in the audience felt the same. The desperate need to make sense of a universe that often seems unknowable and a society that at times is insane, is something we all share in the current state of the world. To the authors of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME, it seems logic - and love - might just be the answer to our eternal quest for the meaning of life on Earth.

Adam Langdon stars as Christopher in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT
Note: Be sure to stay for the post-curtain call scene with Christopher which brought the opening night audience to its collective feet.

The production runs through September 10th at the Ahmanson and tickets can be purchased through the Center Theatre Group box office or online.

-- Lisa Lyons

Monday, August 7, 2017


Meredith Garretson as Maid Marian, Daniel Reece as Robin Hood, Andy Grotelueschen as Friar Tuck, and Paul Whitty as Little John in the Globe-commissioned world premiere of Ken Ludwig's Robin Hood! All photos by Jim Cox.
The great Neil Simon deservedly earned his sobriquet as the ‘king of comedy’ with sheer brilliance and longevity, two components that assure one a place in the pantheon of American comedy playwrights. Britain’s Alan Ayckbourn, earns his pantheon honor for his prodigious comedy output and brilliance in England.

American playwright Ken Ludwig is currently the America’s reigning genius of comedy/farce, a specific form of comedy that requires practitioners that are equal to its source material. Theatre audiences are most familiar with Ludwig’s two hilarious Tony Award-winning farce productions: “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Crazy for You”, the latter running for five years on Broadway.

Meredith Garretson appears as Maid Marian
in Ken Ludwig's Robin Hood!
His canon of comedies and plays include: “Moon Over Buffalo”, “Falsettos”, “The Game's Afoot”, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”,  and “Twentieth Century”, among some twenty other plays. There is usually a Ken Ludwig play being performed every night of the year throughout the world, according to Samuel French, Inc. who represents him in the world of theatre. San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre has the honor of mounting the World Premiere of Ludwig’s newest comedy/farce “Robin Hood”, deftly directed by longtime stage and TV veteran Jessica Stone.

The character of Robin Hood embodies all that appeals to the romantic notion that the world loves a hero and his struggle to win his young maiden. It also celebrates those waging the good fight in the battle to right the wrongs that take place in all societies. In Robin Hood, the stories of heroic figures emerged from the troubadours and story tellers of 600 years ago. The quixotic knight errant Don Quixote, created by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605, is cut from the same cloth as Robin Hood. Both characters, one young and one old, are righting the wrongs as they find them.

Ludwig gathers all the Robin Hood stories, myths, and legends, and lovingly and absurdly fashions them into a production that honors the original intention of those unknown writers and their quests for better life for all by delivering a hilarious and entertaining evening in the theatre via the vehicle of comedy/farce. If you don’t know the story and legend of Robin Hood then you must have grown up living in a cave. Google it!

When I read that the production would be mounted in the Sheryl and Harvey White venue, my first reaction was how will that iconic adventure story fit into the ‘round confines’ of the White Theatre? Puck was right when he stated ‘what fools these mortals be’ (Me). Director Stone leads the skillful creative team of: Scenic Designer Tim Mackabee, who brilliantly solves the space staging issues of recreating Sherwood Forest with its trees and streams, the castle of Prince John, and all the other locations so well remembered by the 1938 movie starring Errol Flynn. I didn’t need to worry; Mackabee’s creative and terrific design works.

Andy Grotelueschen, Michael Boatman, Suzelle Palacios, and
Kevin Cahoon in Ken Ludwig's "Robin Hood!"
And so do the costumes created by Gregg Barnes. His Medieval period designs are colorful on the nobles and appropriate for the archer/soldiers, and rough-looking for Robin’s cohorts. The lighting design by Jason Lyons (no relation) enhances the moods and the action (yes, there are action scenes, but it helps to have a vivid imagination – remember, it’s a comedy/farce performed by a cast of eight talented actors). Fitz Patton is responsible for the original music and sound design, and Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum nicely stages the sword-fighting sequences.

And, now for the actors who bring Ludwig’s ‘Robin Hood’ yarn to life. This audience-pleasing production is a true ensemble effort by a cast of professional comedy/farceurs who know their way around funny material and how to perform it to the hilt. Everyone is always in the moment, strutting their stuff with flair and a sense of sincerity, It’s a pleasure to watch them create their magic under the direction and vision of the innovative Ms. Stone.

The cast of stars includes Andy Groteleuschen as Friar Tuck, who also is the play’s narrator of the story for those that didn’t google the Robin Hood legend. In the title role, Daniel Reece makes Robin Hood a somewhat less roguish, but nonetheless dashing and earnest Robin who always rises to the occasion. Meredith Garretson as Maid Marian is more like a take charge, refreshing Joan of Arc Marion, as opposed to Olivia de Havilland’s shy and compliant Lady Marian. A cautionary tip: never underestimate the power of a redheaded Maid Marian. Reece and Garretson make a wonderful on-stage pair.

Paul Whitty as Little John, the steadfast and loyal follower of Robin, is a guy I would want on my side when it comes down to the hand to hand combat stuff, and Suzelle Palacio as Doerwynn, the love interest of Little John, adds comedy insight to the proceedings.

The cast of Ken Ludwig's "Robin Hood!"
at the Old Globe Theatre.
The two baddies of the evening’s comedy hi-jinks are Sir Guy of Gisbourne and The Sheriff of Nottingham, deliciously played by Manoel Felciano and Kevin Cahoon, respectively. These two gentlemen are certified scene-stealers with impeccable comedy timing. Veteran actor Michael Boatman plays the duplicitous Prince John. All of these skillful actors play multiple roles in this fast paced and energetic ensemble production.

Ken Ludwig’s “Robin Hood” performs in the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White theatre through September 10, 2017.

-- Jack Lyons