Stage Raw: Pieter-Dirk Uys and Charlize Theron at UCLA
INTERVIEW with Medea's director, Lenka Udovicki, and UCLA's David Sefton
A balding, Caucasian 64-year-old drag queen from South Africa, satirist and performance artist Pieter-Dirk Uys has been dubbed a national treasure in his homeland, hobnobbing with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, and imitating both men onstage with untethered mockery. He's in Los Angeles through October 11 to perform his show Elections and Erections, which opened on Sunday at UCLA's Glorya Kaufman Hall (see New Reviews). It's at REDCAT on Friday night, then at the Gay and Lesbian Center on Saturday and Sunday.
Uys' Evita Bezuidenhout is South Africa's answer to Barry Humphreys' Dame Edna, though the AIDS epidemic that remains uncontained in his homeland has given Uys a clear political mission to go into schools and, through humor, instill awareness of sexuality and AIDS prevention, conversations he still finds are stifled by a traditions of shirking discussions of sex, compounded by urban myths that AIDS infections can be cured by raping virgins and/or by a shower.
At Sunday's opening performance at UCLA, Charlize Theron - the first African to receive an Oscar in a major acting category, in 2003 (for her performance of serial killer Aileen Wuoros in Monster) - joined Uys' alter-ego, Evita Bezuidenhout, onstage. Theron demurred when Evita asked her about her next film project, preferring to plug the Africa Outreach Project, which Theron established two years ago in order to send mobile health clinics into her country's impoverished regions.
In the Green Room after the show, Theron slid in briefly during a post-show interview with Uys. She said she left her small-town home of Benoni, South Africa for Milan, Italy in 1994 - the year South Africa held its first free elections - after she won a modeling competition at the age of 16. Her absence from her native land during the transcendent election of Nelson Mandela may explain why she doesn't follow the work of South Africa's most renowned playwright, Athol Fugard, whose latest plays have been performed in Los Angeles. Fugard built a career condemning the bigotry of Apartheid, but his 2007 drama, Victory, is an introspective and tortured examination of how the savagery may have simply changed its skin color. It was for this reason, I asked Theron if she remained optimistic about her country's future.
"I'm a complete optimist," she replied. "I don't think the word resilient fits better than with South Africa. That's how we get through the day."
Uys was fully aware and empathetic of Athol Fugard, and of the shifts in his work. Elections and Erections contains one scene in which, at a urinal, he's told by a "colored" (that word is a current descriptive not a derogatory throwback in South Africa) member of parliament to stop making fun of the African National Congress.
Morality was so clear before 1994, Uys, reflects. It was black and white, now it's murky. He's always ridiculed authority figures - prudes and bigots. His show contains a mocking impersonation of former white president Pieter Botha. But he says that as an aging, white man, he must be cautious ridiculing his nation's "colored" leaders, of inviting the charges of racism against himself that he's made a career of opposing.
His brand of optimism is more metaphysical than political, depicted in his show when he tells of being warned not to visit an AIDS hospice for youth. "Those kids are dying," he's told. "They're living," he replied, before going on to describe the buoyancy of the children's spirit.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS (to be published October 8, 2009)
NEW REVIEW ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
Poor but smart surgeon's daughter Helena (Michelle Terry) cures the King of France (Oliver Ford Davies) of a potentially fatal illness, and the grateful monarch grants her wish to marry the handsome young nobleman Bertram (George Rainsford), whom she has always loved from afar. Bertram, appalled at the idea of marrying a peasant, flees the court with his slimeball buddy Parolles (Conleth Hill), enraging the king and horrifying Bertram's mother (Claire Higgins). However, Helena sets into action a complex scheme to get what she wants. On October 1, the National Theater of Great Britain broadcast the closing night of Marina Warner's glittering production of Shakespeare's most Machiavellian romantic comedy, taped live from London's Olivier Stage. The show is the second in the National Theater's new Travelex-supported season of live plays, filmed in High Definition and beamed to movie theaters around the world. Most filmed stage productions are flat and one dimensional, but director-for-the-screen Robin Love uses multi-camera angles and choreographed close ups to elegantly capture simultaneously the intimacy of the character-driven tragicomedy and the scope of designer Rae Smith's toweringly gothic Ghormengastly set. Warner's production generally favors melancholy over laughter - not an unnatural choice for this most emotionally dark of Shakesperean comedies. Terry offers a crackling, ferocious turn as the driven Helena that's just a few steps short of being a full on stalker. As the object of her obsessive affection, Rainsford is hilariously gormless, suggesting the difference in emotional maturity between young men and women. Higgins' angst-filled yet beautifully sympathetic mother contains a power better suited for tragedy than comedy. And Hill's prissily oafish Parolles, done up with greasy long hair recalling Meatloaf, is a joyously loathsome performance. Admittedly, L.A. is a city that has plenty of fine theater, but these digital productions offer an unmissable opportunity to see one of the great theater companies of the world, at least in some incarnation. Mann's Chinese Theater, 6925 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles. Closed. A production of the National Theatre of Great Britain. For information on the next show in the series, visit http://www.ntlive.com. (Paul Birchall)
NEW REVIEW GO BOBBY BENDON GETS BY
In an unnamed town in the Inland Empire, somewhere between the releases of Van Halen's "1984" and "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge," young married couple Glen (Nicholas D. Clark) and Trish (Audrey Malone) dream of Los Angeles -- or specifically, the oasis of Reseda, where before the baby arrives they want to buy a three bedroom house and run into Goldie Hawn at the grocery store. The first step is getting Glen's metal band Torch signed at next week's Battle of the Bands. But guitarist Bobby (Liam Springthorpe), Glen and Trish's high school best friend, is having a near meltdown over the public access seductress Mamazon (Erin Anderson), who he fancies is his girlfriend, even though she hangs up when ever he calls in looking for a date. Brian Soika's dramedy is heavy on spandex and wigs and light on dramatic thrust, though it works well as an honest, slim story about the need to be better than average at something, be it love or music. Marah Morris directs a strong ensemble who looks resplendently retro in costume designer Ayesha Mesinger's scrunchies, tube socks, and torn jeans. With musicians Andy Creighton, Jonathan Hylander, and Sean Johnson rocking out stage right on Torch hits like "Stilettos" (a CD comes in the program). Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 25, email@example.com. (323) 320-0127. (Amy Nicholson)
NEW REVIEW GO ELECTIONS AND ERECTIONS Pieter-Dirk Uys is South Africa's answer to Dame Edna, a balding white drag queen who has built a career on ridiculing authority figures and celebrities. Uys, however, doesn't skewer his audiences, which Edna does with glee. (The nightmare in one of Edna's shows is to be singled out and commented on for one's lack of fashion sense, or spouse, or home town, or any arbitrary aspect that the satirist will hold up high for ridicule). Comparatively speaking, Uys is deadly serious, because the social issue that concerns him most is so deadly - the AIDS epidemic, which Uys sees as tantamount to genocide, in his homeland. For this reason, he takes his one-man creations into schools and tries to start conversations about sexuality that have been traditionally silenced by British Colonial and Afrikaaner rule. Imagine Puck's dad, and you might get a sense of the wit that animates Uys' performance. He stands in front of three milk crates, which contain his dresses and shoes - so essential for drag, as he ably demonstrates. "The back straightens and the balls just disappear." Impersonations of Desmond Tutu and ex-president Pieter Botha show meticulous technique, and are a window onto a world far away, in both geography and history. Americans will find points of connection, however, in the varying ways that bigotry and sexual repression are universal phenomena. And though Uys insists that if he needs to explain where he's coming from, he'd rather just move on with his entertainment, his act (which also features an array of fictitious belles) comes laced with political and sexual commentary. The need to discuss sex openly, and protect oneself from whatever deadly diseases accompany it, would seem obvious, but if that weren't a difficult discussion in both nations, Uys wouldn't have an act, or a purpose. His show has a wondrous blend of political cynicism (he now ribs the ruling ANC party as he had once mocked Botha) and optimism. The latter derives from a love of life - even one ensconced in death - that gives this show its energy. REDCAT, 631 West Second St., downtown. Fri., Oct. 9, 8:30 p.m.; Renberg Theater, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., Hollywood; Sat., Oct. 10, 8 p.m.p; Sun., Oct. 11, 7 p.m. (323) 860-7300. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
NEW REVIEW GO HOW KATRINA PLAYS The late Judi Ann Mason's character study swirling around the tempests of hurricane Katrina is partly an act of devotion to her brother, journalist BJ Mason (Christopher Carrington) who died at his computer while reporting on the effects and after-effects of the disaster. The play is a poetical docudrama, accompanied (too sparingly) by the fine Bourbon Street Band. A montage of scenes intersect. Drag queen Bella Sera (Wil Bowers) emcees a traditional hurricane party, with the vivacious ensemble, but in this story, it's the hurricane and not the party that gets out of hand. Director Tchia Casselle guides a series of monologues and scenes that depict an elderly woman (Elisabeth Noone) abandoned and trapped in a nursing home as the waters rise; a mother (Kvon Harris) and her 10-year-old son (Justin Galluccio) separated by the flood, spend the play seeking each other, sometimes in different cities; a mixed-race couple (Barika A Croom and Jacob White) hold each other in an attic, as the floodwaters rise on their honeymoon. And Kimberly Niccole turns in a tender, harrowing performance as a young woman seething with racism. Beamed, still-images from the disaster accompany the narrative, which, just through words and the performances, provides a visceral sense of what it must have been like in the filthy holding pen of Houston Astrodome. The performance is a memorial filled with a grim, grimy and sometimes animated testament to who we are, and what we become, in the wake of disaster. Write Act Repertory theater, 6128 Yucca Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Oct. 24. (323) 469-3113. (Steven Leigh Morris)
NEW REVIEW GO THE ILLUSION Translator Ranjit Bolt's adaptation of Corneille's 17th century classic starts out stodgily but soon swerves merrily into comic gear. A remorseful father (Kevin McCorkle) seeks the help of a magician (Alexander Wright) in tracking down his estranged son. It turns out the young man, Clindor (Benny Wills) -- attached to a fatuous nobleman named Matamore (Jon Monastero) - has been acting as emissary for this overblown buffoon to a lady named Isabelle (Nicole Disson). Something of a Don Juan, Clindor has clandestinely wooed both Isabelle and her maid Lyse (Kendra Chell), who now smolders with jealousy, aware that her opportunistic paramour has upped his sights on the social ladder. Directed by David Bridel, the production gets laughs from Monastero's lisping braggart-nobleman, whose grandiose claims to be a mighty warrior and lover evaporate at the mere whiff of a challenge. As the maid, Chell airs much of the script's wit and wisdom in a smart, snappy performance. Disson and other supporting players also deliver the goods. Wills is fine as the dashing hero, but the production might have been more interesting if he'd played it less upright and exploited the character's deviousness a little more. Eventually the play's humor deflates as the magician's tale mutates into a portrait of adultery and of the marriage between Isabelle and Clindor gone awry. Christina Wright's costumes add color and charm. Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 3 p.m., thru Nov. 21. (323) 882-6912. (Deborah Klugman)
NEW REVIEW GO MOM'S THE WORD Six mothers wrote these intertwined jokes and rants about parenting, and even those who haven't undergone birth themselves (a minority in the audience that I was part of) feel sympathy pangs after Kimleigh Smith starts the show screaming and pleading for the pain to go away. That agonizingly true opener arcs from "What have I done?" to 'How couldn't I have done this?" Though the trajectory of the show is a vindication of motherhood, the five actors (all parents themselves) cathartically focus on the smelly, slimy, exhausting, self-denigrating, unsexy, paranoid, and bewildered qualities that motherhood brings out. This certainly isn't a Precious Moments valentine to parenting; happy moments are so rare, it's a small feat that director Jerry London makes the closing sufficiently upbeat that the parents in the house don't immediately make a drop off at the nearest orphanage. In a nifty bit of casting, Smith, Gina Torrecilla, Becky Thyre, and Cathy Schenkelberg are joined by real life gay dad Hutchins Foster, who steps into a originally female role with just a few tweaks. This casual and enthusiastic evening is worth a baby-sitter for moms and dads who want to hear others speak the unspeakable. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 508-0281. (Amy Nicholson)
NEW REVIEW PARADE
Alfred Uhry, Jason Robert Brown and Harold Prince's musical based on a miscarriage of justice against Leo Frank (T.R. Knight), a Jewish man in 1913 Atlanta wrongly accused of murdering a 13-year old Mary Phalen (Rose Sezniak) in the pencil factory where she worked, and where Frank was superintendent. Rob Ashford's sumptuous staging, and Brown's caressing ragtime/pop score, are in the service of what's aiming to be tragedy of mythic proportions. Uhry's predictable storytelling, however, invites us to react to the obvious rather than reflect on the mysterious, turning the entire event into child's play. Christopher Oram's set, featuring a shape-shifting Confederate mural, under Neil Austin's lighting, is gorgeous to look at. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; through Nov. 15. (213) 628-2772. A Donmar Warehouse Production. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature on Thursday
NEW REVIEW THAT PERFECT MOMENT
What is it about rock 'n' roll that makes it so stubbornly resistant to conventional dramatic representation? Perhaps it's that the rock meta-narrative -- the collective absurdity of backstage misbehavior, egocentric pettiness and self-destructive excess that is somehow transcended in the artistry and catharsis of the live performance -- runs so close to self-parody that it can only be captured in documentary or satire (or both -- i.e. This is Spinal Tap). Whatever the reason, playwrights Charles Bartlett and Jack Cooper's warmed-over band reunion dramedy misses the mark by an L.A. mile. When ponytailed, sixty-something literature professor, Mark Vanowen (Tait Ruppert), hears that a label is interested in his former, never-signed, '60s protest band, The Weeds, for an oldies compilation, he promptly recalls his old band mates to discuss reforming for a support tour. The problem is former drummer Skip (Bruce Katzman), now a prosperous Republican with a McMansion in Calabasas, who holds the song rights along with a vindictive grudge against Mark for jumping ship at the moment of The Weeds' almost-success. Complicating matters is Mark's wife, Sarah (Kelly Lester), who abruptly walks out after he chucks his department's chairmanship for a last stab at rock 'n' roll glory. Though director Rick Sparks elicits spirited performances from a stellar cast (including Sha Na Na's Guerin Barry and the comically gifted John Bigham), neither Adam Flemming's sterile, apartment set nor the play's atonal text musters the authenticity needed to make this production rock. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8, www.plays411.com/perfect. (323) 960-7745. (Bill Raden)
NEW REVIEW GO SECRETS OF A SOCCER MOM Playwright Kathleen Clark's comedy is a funny and touching tale about rekindling lost dreams or letting them go. It's another soccer Sunday and three middle-class, suburban housewives are teamed up against their 8-year-olds in a mom versus son tournament. Nancy (Jennifer L. Davis) is a 40-ish former model seemingly resigned to a less glamorous life, Lynn (Tammy Taylor) is a 30-something who single-handedly and thanklessly runs the local PTA, and Allison (Michelle Coyle) is in her twenties and new to the unnamed neighborhood as well as to soccer - she totes a copy of Soccer for Dummies. Despite Allison's protests, they decide to throw the game so their kids can feel good, a choice they later realize is a metaphor for how they sacrifice their own goals and feelings for the sake of their families. "How can you feel trapped by what you love?" one of them laments as they reveal their true feelings and end up bonding as a team, both on and off the field. Clark's balance of snappy one-liners and serious reflection (especially an Act 2 monologue delivered by Davis) make up for the play's predictability. The cast is exceptional under Donald Shenk's first-rate direction, StillSpeaking Theatre, 2560 Huntington Dr., San Marino; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 18. (626) 292-2081. (Martín Hernández)
NEW REVIEW TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Christopher Sergel's stage adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel suffers from a lack of narrative drive due to the inclusion of an adult narrator. In the much beloved story, Scout (Rachel Arnold), her brother Jem (Dalton O'Dell) and friend Dill (Taylor Cosgrove Scofield) spend a long hot summer in 1935 Macomb, Alabama trying to get Boo Radley (Price Carson) to come out of his house. Scout also observes how her lawyer father Atticus (Jim Gleason) handles a trumped-up rape charge against a black man named Tom Robinson (Myron Primes), levied by the racist Bob Ewell (David Wells) and his daughter Mayella (Hayden Wyatt). Although well-intentioned, this adaptation's use of a both 7-year-old Scout and her adult self (Penny Louise Moore) gives the play a strained earnestness. However, the acting can't be faulted, and director Moore astutely marshals the large cast on the small stage, which also benefits from Moose's set design. The child actors are terrific, particularly Scofield. Gleason achieves the right gravitas as Atticus, and Wells makes an outstanding snarling villain. Actors Repertory Theater at Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 25, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/74143. (800) 838-3006. (Sandra Ross)
NEW REVIEW THE TRAGEDY OF KING RICHARD III
Director Geoff Elliott gives us a traditional production of Shakespeare's most emphatically rhetorical tragedy, setting it in its proper historical period, the 1480s. Steve Weingartner's feisty, shaven-headed Richard is zestily malevolent, alternating sly, saturnine humor and self-satisfaction with unbridled savagery. Deborah Strang plays the vengeful Queen Margaret as a raddled, ragged, witch-like creature, and Lenne Klingaman is a spunky Lady Anne. Freddy Douglas is stalwartly noble as Richard's nemesis, the Earl of Richmond, Apollo Dukakis is a venerable King Edward, and Susan Angelo plays his embattled queen with aplomb. So it remains a mystery why this staging feels so inert. Perhaps it's because of some curious choices by Elliott: Decking the ghosts who haunt Richard with Christmas lights is more gimmicky than haunting. Designer Darcy Scanlin provides the moody and somberly beautiful multi-leveled set, and Ken Merckx, Jr. and Spike Steingasser provide dynamic fight choreography, though something seemed amiss in the climactic combat between Richard and Richmond. Sound designer Patricia Hotchkiss uses the neighing of terrified horses to startling effect, but the near constant sound-track of cawing crows, bird-song and dripping water is often distracting. It's a fitfully impressive production, if not always a satisfying one. A Noise Within, 234 South Brand Boulevard, Glendale; in alternating repertory; call theatre for schedule. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1. http://www.ANoiseWithin.org (Neal Weaver)