Lights Off, Eyes Closed at T.U. Studios
by Brian Sonia-Wallace
Let me be blunt: I liked this play. You should go see this play. It is very good.
I didn’t think I would like it. I admit that from the advertising I was prepared to spend two hours grinding my teeth—and it is a play with purple posters about romance novels, mother-daughter relationships, and love in the modern world. The potential for mush is there, but the play acknowledges it, plays with and against it, and then soars above it. Light’s Off, Eyes Closed is an uproarious comedy that has no problem subverting everything it’s about in one moment, only to have you realize in the next that through the act of subversion it has reaffirmed and transcended each of its themes. By playing with the absurdity of romance as a fantasy genre it shows how very essential fantasy, and maybe even romance, are to deal with the absurdity of life.
Watch out for Sky Pilot Theatre resident playwright Liz Shannon Miller. Her writing is beautifully paced, building a thoroughly believable world in the first act and raising the stakes at a mile a minute in the second act. She keeps the play’s scope small but fleshes out the world so completely that two hours go by in a snap. This is what theater should be—modern, relevant, local, and above all, fun. Hollywood could learn a thing or two about both the heart and the brain of a story from Ms. Miller.
The play’s conceit is simple: when a mother (hilarious yet elegantly dry Mary Burkin) dies, she leaves her only daughter, Jane (a superbly nuanced Joanna Kalafatis), with the task of finishing her final romance novel. Jane is skeptical of the genre (she prefers Star Trek), disillusioned with life, and thoroughly inexperienced with love. Her pep-tastic roommate (Samantha Carro) and her studlier-than-thou high school crush (Jason Kobielus) are canoodling, and her mother’s agent (Chera Holland) is breathing down her neck. On top of that, she doesn’t know how she feels about her new maybe-boyfriend (JR Esposito), and all the while her mother’s ghost is heckling and advising from the side-lines.
The play begins as the mother starts to write her novel and ends the second the daughter finishes it. But a simple plot summary does no justice to the hilarity or touches of deep thought present in every scene. From the opening announcements that read as a romance novel (‘they held hands in the dark…they muted their cell phones…’) to the final note (No spoilers, but I think the cast would agree it ends pretty ‘happily muthaf*cking after’) Light’s Off, Eyes Closed comes at you a laugh-a-minute and leaves each scene with cliffhangers that keep you wanting more.
The stage is effectively divided into a raised level juxtaposed with a lower stage. The raised level is where we see the fantasy scenes of the mother’s ghost and the romance’s characters (Carro and Kobielus again, delightfully playing off their range and *ahem* passion). On the lower stage, the complications of real life make things, well, complicated. As the play goes on, the audience sees Jane’s journey from resisting the fantasy world to embracing it as a playground to figure things out in her own life. She is cynical enough for the most skeptical audience member to relate to, and her change of heart isn’t about loving romance, it’s about needing a narrative to connect this big shapeless thing called life. The need for this fantasy world, explored in a touching mother-daughter scene, is the real heart of this play. It doesn’t matter what fantasy we indulge in, it seems to say, so long as we have something that lets us escape from the real world and find meaning in it at the same time.
Director Meredith Berg is to be commended for keeping the action tight and making sure the actors hit every note spot-on. She does a lot with a minimalistic set and lighting, which give the play a slightly unpolished and ‘small theater’ feel that only makes the quality of the script and acting more outstanding. My only criticism was that the audience was often left sitting in the dark for what seemed like ages during scene changes—hopefully this will get cleaner as the production goes on.
It’s rare to find a play with the irreverent humor, nuanced characters, wicked pacing, and deep heart of Lights Off, Eyes Closed. Thank you, Sky Pilot Theatre.
Lights Off, Eyes Closed is performed Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 7:00 pm, and runs through April 29th, 2012.
T.U. Studios is located at 10943 Camarillo St. North Hollywood CA 91602
Ticket prices: $20.00 general admission, group rates available for 10 or more.
Reservations online at www.SKYPILOTTHEATRE.com or by phone at (800) 838-3006
Give yourself a treat and spend an evening with 29 unusual and comedic characters in the recent production of Plane Talk at SkyPilot Theater in NoHo. Set in various airport waiting rooms, this show features several humorous and dramatic moments that highlight the frustration and uneasiness we have come to expect when we are forced to travel by air. Rest assured, the large ensemble is able to handle the many characters of each act which includes a wonderful cross cultural example of everyday folks just trying to fly somewhere with the least amount of interference.
In one storyline discussion centers around how those of a certain age remember when travel use to be fun and exciting. Now it has been reduced to invasive questions and constant suspicion. Another story that works very well shows us a bomb-toting conspiracy laden woman who is convinced the airport is covering up a secret plot with deadly underground tunnels. Very good writing in this story and a special note to the actor playing head of operations, J.R. Esposito. He is at ease with the character and elicits a strong presence. A real natural on stage.
Overall, this production accomplishes what it sets out to in this ambitious theatrical endeavor. Combining some of the story lines might give it a stronger hold on the audience, however, there is very little to correct here. The strong acting ability of a veteran cast with some smart newcomers, this production is fun to watch. As usual, the acting at SkyPilot is top notch and keep an eye on future productions with Lindsay Mixon and Amelia Rose. Their wonderful singing voices were a highlight to the ‘Reel People’ act that pokes fun at those Hollywood types we all love to hate.
Each of these ten short plays were written and directed by different individuals. Please don’t miss this production. It has a short run at the T.U.Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, CA 91602, and January 21-February 26, 2012. Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased at www.SKYPILOTTHEATER.com.
GO TO THE NEW GIRL
The trophy wife (Niki Nowak) of a prominent televangelist considers divorcing and/or exposing her husband for his affair with a gay man.
A spoiled matron (Ashley Fuller, alternating with Jennie Floyd) berates the pretty young housekeeper who has complained of her spouse’s sexual harassment.
A woman who has suffered multiple miscarriages (Monica Lawson) excoriates her mate’s new lover and casts a curse on the child they are expecting.
An elderly woman (Rosina Pinchot), happily married for 57 years, shares the story of her marriage with her Alzheimer-stricken husband’s new companion, a woman he fell in love with in a nursing home.
Directed by Jeanette Farr, playwright Samantha Macher’s script relays the stories of ten betrayed or forsaken women, each of whom speaks to the paramour who has ensnared her beloved’s affections.
To the credit of the playwright and the company, Macher wrote this play at the request of this company’s members to counterbalance the overwhelmingly male-oriented perspective of their past productions. Not all the narratives are equally developed – some trail off without sufficient resolution — and some performances are of a notably higher standard than others. Still, Macher’s writing reflects the humor and detail of an insightful storyteller.
Pinchot captures the spotlight with a heartrending portrayal of a lost and cherished love. Also notable are Tifanie McQueen as an abused wife livid enough to murder her rival, and Shelby Janes as a pregnant gal bidding a welcome good riddance to her crackhead boyfriend.
Skypilot Theatre Company at T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 18. (800) 838-3006. skypilottheatre.com (Deborah Klugman)
August 18, 2011 | 2:50 pm
“To the New Girl,” presented by SkyPilot Theatre Company at T.U. Studios, is a bracing blitz of pure estrogen that might make you rush out and organize a charity bake sale.
The full title of Samantha Macher’s new play is “To the New Girl From the Former Mrs. _____; Sound Advice for My Husband’s New Wife or Mistress.” Directed by Jeanette Farr, this entertaining evening consists of 10 monologues from various women scorned who directly address their exes’ new wives and lovers.
Monologue plays are standard theatrical fare in which the playwright can trowel on an overriding theme without worrying overmuch about dramatic cohesion. Although she breaks little new ground in this familiar format, Macher handles the exercise with considerable panache.
Things start off on a kinky note as a young woman (Mackenzie English) addresses the “other woman,” who is now accommodating her ex-boyfriend’s singular fetish. The evening comes full circle with the final monologue, a wrenching piece in which an elderly woman (Rosina Pinchot, in a moving turn) turns over the care of her Alzheimer’s sufferer husband to his new “girlfriend” at the nursing facility.
From the profane to the poignant, the opening and closing scenes effectively frame the other monologues, which show Macher’s impressive range. The performances are all solid, but standouts include Niki Nowak as a sardonic Southern belle married to a gay television evangelist and Shelby Janes as an abused pregnant woman who has grown a steel backbone.
The staging is emotionally astute, but Farr should have trusted her material more. The monologues are too frequently interrupted when extraneous performers troop onstage to perform business that seems mostly unnecessary, an unfortunate glitch that distracts from the otherwise engaging performances.
– F. Kathleen Foley
“To the New Girl…” T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 18. $20. (800) 838-3006. www.skypilottheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill
The topic of gay rights and gay marriage is a hotbed for theater as of late, what with play after play being produced in Los Angeles alone over the past few years since Prop. 8 was passed. And just when you think the subject can’t come up with an original angle, up pops Jeff Goode’s The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill.
Set in 1865, the action takes place in and around the front porch of a house in a Kentucky border town on the eve of the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. But this isn’t a play about African-American civil rights. No. The emancipation of one particular slave is used as a metaphor for the right of gay couples to marry as well as gay rights in general.
We first meet the adorable Ethan (Brett Fleisher) and Evan (Matt Valle), two hicks from different towns who have become fast friends. Shirtless in overalls and chewing on weeds, the boys aren’t the brightest of fellas, but what they don’t have upstairs, they have in charm. So much so they seem to be very fond of each other, although openly admitting that hasn’t really occurred yet.
The two meet to “wittle” (used awkwardly as a metaphor for masturbation) and find themselves near the house of their friend Captain Avner Pilicock (James Sharpe). A stoic and genial man, he serves the boys sweet tea and allows them to wittle right there on his front porch. He even joins them. But just as the sun beats down and the three enjoy the day, they witness crazy old Deacon Chickory (Nathaniel Stanton) falling down the hill of his house and landing in the street. Grabbing him before he gets run over by a horse-drawn carriage, the boys bring him onto the front porch with them. There the Deacon explains how much he hates his wife and later, how the church was actually a brothel that has been out of business for some time.
While the Deacon regales the group with stories, a riled-up Deputy Lynch (Jude Evans) arrives to announce that loony old Abraham Lincoln has signed the Emancipation Proclamation allowing the slaves to go free. He believes this to be the end of times and in doing so, reveals himself to be a Klan member ready to do some “hangin’!” Which is when Grocer Baggot (Frank Ensenberger) shows up, hollering about how the Emancipation will cause all sorts of problems with his store, not to mention lower property values.
All of this bigotry is mixed in with the fact that Evan is from a town across the bridge called Collard Green. Because he is a “collard,” he is treated with disdain by many, even the confused Ethan who keeps ignorantly voting for the collards to be hanged even though he is clearly in love with him. It’s as if no-one really knows where they stand because the simple issue of getting along with each other gets confused by everyone’s personal and political agenda.
It’s when Act Two begins and the Emancipation has passed that the Captain’s long-standing African American friend Alabaster is allowed on the porch and the question of racism and bigotry is put into light and compared to gay civil rights. This is done in quite a clever and amusing way. Most notably is the fact that everyone seems to accept Alabaster outright until they are “told” he is black and then suddenly they have a problem with him.
Throughout the active Act Two, the Deacon has a wonderful extended bit on the abominations of the Bible, and the Grocer gets to bombastically try and get the new equality of the blacks to be not so equal.
There are many pleasures in The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill and it’s best to let the giddiness of the story unfold without any idea where it’s going. Not that shocking surprises abound, but Goode is quite good at making his points while disguising them as something else. The only trouble is, he has a lot of points to make and this creates a play that goes on about a half hour too long. It is also so skillfully metamorphosed that the play almost demands a second viewing to get every reference.
Some of the bawdy gay humor doesn’t work, but still manages to cause a chuckle or two. (Evan’s fascination with Alabaster’s long knife is pretty funny.) It will certainly get the gays in the audience to laugh, although the play is written so that those against gay marriage will see the error of the ways. Unfortunately, this is another play about gay rights that will be preaching to the choir. Not that it won’t give people that are pro-gay good fodder for arguments to their friends, family and co-workers who are against the equal rights, so in that, it’s a good thing.
All in all, though, The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill is a charming show with terrific actors all around and an original premise that stands out among the myriad of equal rights plays that have flooded our stages. Expertly directed by Eric Curtis Johnson, this is a show to seek out. We just have to get the gays to take that long trip to North Hollywood to see it.
GO THE EMANCIPATION OF ALABASTER MCGILL
After a startling revelation is made in Act II of Jeff Goode’s funny new comedy, two dumbstruck boys freeze as one says to the other, “Don’t say anything; maybe it’ll just disappear.”
The setting might be Kentucky, 1863, but that good ol’ Southern methodology prevailed even in free lovin’ California, 2008, when Goode’s editorial on Proposition 8 was rejected by a major publication because it wasn’t election coverage. That dismissal became the springboard for this world premiere, which uses a 19th century discussion over the imminent Emancipation Proclamation to draw parallels between slavery and homosexuality. Goode’s got a knack for clever innuendo: Self-pleasure is as thinly veiled as “whittling,” and Jude Evans’ Klansman/Deputy has a tiny pocketknife.
Director Eric Curtis Johnson has found a cast with impeccable comic timing: In the Huckleberry Finn/Tom Sawyer tradition, Brett Fleisher and Matt Valle puzzle over problematic situations before announcing the most logical solutions. With a static setting and a few too-frequent occasions of the pedantic dialogue, as Deacon Chickory (a scene-stealing Nathaniel Stanton) drums into your head, that “slippery slope” into preachiness. “We ain’t got time to debate this or think about what we’re doin’!” Frank Ensenberger’s Grocer Bag Baggot sputters on the eve before the Proclamation takes effect.
You might be for or against Prop 8, but kudos to Goode for taking that time.
SkyPilot Theater at T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 19. (800) 838-3006.skypilottheatre.com (Rebecca Haithcoat)
I caught a wildly original and highly entertaining production on the weekend
By Pat Taylor
Naughty, bawdy and screamingly funny… it pokes fun at both politics and homosexuality… in the olden days. Funny, how little things have changed!
Still laughing after seeing this whacky and riotously raunchy play, Producer Bob Rusch has been telling me about this project for over a year. It is as hysterical as he promised! Loaded with outrageous political and sexual innuendos, the razor sharp double entendres attack your psyche like cerebral bullets!
The press notes state in part, “A Civil War border town is gripped by controversy when the dreaded ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ (setting free the slaves) threatens to redefine freedom as they know it. The city’s sea captain, the deacon of the local church brothel and the friendly neighborhood Klansmen are united by their hatred of that liberal pantywaist, Abe Lincoln.” Beyond that “wee peek”… I don’t want to spoil your fun!
A varied assortment of queerly quirky men sit on a porch sipping “sweet tea” and “swappin’ splinters” (whittling twigs), as they verbally debate with hilarious verve! Ingeniously written by the successful contemporary playwright, Jeff Goode, and playfully directed with precise timing by Eric Curtis Johnson… the whole controversial and kooky journey is a laugh riot! Kudos to Gideon Potter for his eye appealing set design!
A cast of seven excellent male actors bring their nutty characters to life… each one funnier than the last! James Sharpe plays the Captain, hosting the others on his porch, with classy comedic charm; Jude Evans is a scream as the overly authoritative Deputy Sheriff; Frank Ensenberger is annoyingly funny (as written) as the nerdy local grocer; Matt Valle and Brett Fleisher are lovably looney as two hayseed teen boys discovering their sexuality; and Arden Haywood is elegantly effective as the newly emancipated slave in the title role of “Alabaster McGill.” Saving my favorite stellar performance for last… Nathaniel Stanton is marvelously manic as the disheveled and “offbeat” Deacon Chickory… with his own zany “take” on life. Flawless!
This is a “titillating” team effort, driven by the skill of its entire cast, and “should” garner attention come “theatre awards” season. My guest Marla and I had a blast, and talked about the show all the way home! Not for the easily offended… but all others will laugh uncontrollably!
BONUS TIP: I just learned that this play was given a “GO” in the L.A. Weekly. Not an easy feat… Congrats!
Running through June 14 at T.U. Studios located at 10943 Camarillo St. in North Hollywood. For seats, call (800) 838-3006 or go to www.skypilottheatre.com.
Netflix is the named villain behind most of these short plays that take place in and around Video Palace, a withering neighborhood video rental shop. Each of the five one-acts presented are teased by movie clips. Just like Friday, REWIND: Saturday Edition the audience whets their appetite on scenes from films like Dirty Dancing and White Nights. (Thirty points to anyone who can name the clip which featured the talking tumbleweed.)
“ I Wouldn’t Mind Seeing This Again” is a colorful collage of monologues that examines the reason why we love the movies that we love. This collaboration between writer Adam Hahn and director Greg Machlin exercise judicious measures of nostalgia and playfulness. The cast of four are immediately engaging.
The tone was all over the place for “ Death & Popcorn.” However, this play seemed to be designed as fare for the camp contingent in the audience. This piece depicts an actually morning in the life of a video clerk, uninterrupted. Humorous and strange stuff.
Julianne Homokay’s short one act “ Relics ” introduces us to Bel ( Selby James) on the eve of her becoming homeless. With her video store having gone under, she finds an unexpected friend and confidante in Cloris ( Mary Burkin), the homeless woman camped out behind her store. “Relics” is a severe shift in tone, deeply somber and serious in content. It is an abrupt but pleasing surprise in an evening of comedy. Tent-poled between “ Death & Popcorn” and “ Rapture & Lamaze,” Homokey’s play fits well into the showcase, adding a wonderful slice of variety that offers solid scene work by both actresses.
“ Rapture & Lamaze” is another one-act whose title probably speaks for itself. However, the title cannot convey the delicious chaos that erupts from the volatile combination of one late Lamaze tape, one pissed off Lamaze partner ( Kim Jiang), one lazy boyfriend ( Trey Thompson), two pregnant women ( Lindsey Mixon & Jamie Punkett), one Christian Evangelist ( Jeremiah Munsey), one obstinate video clerk ( Jason Sims-Prewitt), and yes ladies and gentlemen, theeRapture. Double threat Julianne Homokay directs the short play written by fellow writer/directorJeff Goode. A comedy piece this broad and physical could not have been executed well without a cast of singular focus. This cast of six was on fire! Ridiculous and so much fun. Well Done.
“ Wandering Willows” closes the evening on a musical note. With the book and music byJonathan Price and lyrics by Chana Wise, this final one-act speaks to all who are easily seduced and transported by sweeping movie musical. Billy ( Ben Ryan) wants nothing more than to get lost in the perfect world of melodies, but he simultaneously wants that world all to himself. Or does he?Allison Bibicoff directs and choreographs the piece with an even hand, and a steadfast eye on the acting. Again, great ensemble chemistry. Equal parts silly and sweet, “ Wandering Willows” is the last of several great treats in this evening of one-acts.
REWIND – Saturday Edition is a solid night of theatre. This evening of late night entertainment scores in all genres: comedy, drama and musical theatre. If you are a die-hard who consumes great entertainment at all hours of the day and night, REWIND is a very good show.
Yes, Svetlana, There Is A Grandfather Frost
SkyPilot Theatre Company at the Luna Playhouse
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
NOVEMBER 24, 2010
In 1897, newsman Francis Pharcellus Church wrote an editorial in response to a letter received from 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon asking whether Santa Claus was real, because her friends had told her he didn’t exist. Church’s response, now one of the most famous pieces of journalism extant, has become an indelible part of Christmas. Jeff Goode has turned a bit of Russian history into a warm-hearted homage to Church’s defense.
In the 1950s, the new Soviet Union set about destroying the legend of Christmas and Father Christmas by moving the celebration to New Year’s, reviving a mythical tale of Grandfather Frost, thus removing the ill-disposed German Christmas influence from the new order. Goode’s story is set in an urban newspaper office presided over by the severe Madame Editrix (Erika Godwin). Her secretary, the incurably optimistic Devuchka (Lisa Younger), is preparing for the holiday. When an official news account, sent by the government, details injuries suffered by people protesting at a rally that has not yet occurred, two newsmen—Zloveschii (Tyler Rhoades) and Tserkov (Morry Schorr)—debate truth versus propaganda and repression.
Younger’s naive and playful portrayal is a delightful addition to the production. It provides an amusing contrast to the more serious political argument. Godwin’s transformation from formal and unsentimental to kind and humane also enhances the overall message of the play. Schorr and Rhoades turn in believable performances as they challenge right versus wrong. Bob Rusch and director Gideon Potter also delight as two menacing Russian agents of the regime. Potter’s directorial touch easily captures the humor of the play’s predicament as well as the sentimentality inherent in the holiday season.
Tserkov’s concluding letter at play’s end to little Svetlana, echoing Church’s famous one, affirms faith, love, and childhood’s delight and could make Goode’s play a staple offering during many future Christmas seasons. This cast certainly gives it a heartfelt interpretation.
Presented by SkyPilot Theatre Company at the Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Rd., Glendale. Nov. 13–Dec. 19. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. www.skypilottheatre.com.
Glendale News Press
‘Frost’ is charming, poignant
By Dink O’Neal
November 27, 2010
Joining forces with Glendale’s Luna Playhouse, SkyPilot Theatre Company currently offers the West Coast premiere of Jeff Goode’s “Yes Svetlana, There is a Grandfather Frost.” Having been named the Luna’s resident company, director Gideon Potter and his top-notch ensemble have elevated the bar when it comes to quality in small-venue theater. Only the most cynical of viewers would leave untouched by the myriad messages contained in this charmingly constructed story.
Set in 1950, a group of Soviet newspaper employees are forced to choose between ethics and personal survival when they uncover a pre-ordained attack on a group of Christmas worshipers by Stalin’s oppressive regime. Constantly censored by the “Party,” the journalists are confronted by a local Security Committee member and his physically imposing support thug.
Its set against the backdrop of a letter from a young girl asking whether Grandfather Frost, the Party’s nonreligious alternative to St. Nickolas, actually exists. Obviously the correlation to the 1897 New York Sun editorial titled “Is There a Santa Claus?” inspired by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon was an intentional stepping-off point for Goode’s story.
As Devuchka, an 18-year-old interning as the paper’s receptionist thanks to her uncle’s Party connections, Lisa Younger is cute as a button as she exhibits a refreshing sense of humanity that has yet to be tarnished by politics.
Erika Godwin is strait-laced and guarded at every turn as she brings to life the publication’s editor whose own father was hauled away by the state, never to be seen again.
Godwin’s second-act transformation is truly touching as her hope for a better future is rekindled through a simple act of kindness. As the paper’s primary correspondents, Morry Schorr and Tyler Rhoades represent the past and future of the Russian people.
Rhoades is excellent as Zloveschii, a womanizing scamp whose desire to cover his own tracks doesn’t quite work out the way he had hoped. Schorr’s portrayal of Tserkov, the veteran of the group, who experienced the Bolshevik Revolution as a child including Grandfather Frost’s “birth” or rather imposition on the children of the U.S.S.R., is superb. As the villains in the story, Ken Lyle and Bob Rusch make a perfect team as Comrades Bolyshoi and Shiroky. Relying on subtlety and the smallest of glances, inferences and unspoken threats, this gifted duo infuse a palpable sense of fear into the proceedings.
Although the perfectly chosen costuming is uncredited, Potter himself has designed a sparsely appointed office set lit with exquisite detail by Azad Abed-Stephen. Particularly effective is Schorr’s emotional dictation answering Svetlana’s query on a darkened stage illuminated by only a tiny onstage desk lamp. It’s a poignant conclusion to this riveting production.
Dink O’Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn., resides in Burbank.
With the brooding melodrama of an Edward Hopper painting, Rod Serling’s 1956 teleplay has become a standard of post–WWII angst, which presented the flip side of American optimism in the mid-20th century. In gritty, poetic language worthy of Eugene O’Neill, Serling creates a testosterone-driven world of desperation and failure that shadows the shadowy world of prize fighting.
Once-successful promoter Maishe Resnick (Ken Butler) sinks to betting against his own aging “boy” boxer, Mountain McClintock (Bob Rusch), sending both into financial and emotional tailspins. Social worker Grace Miller (Tonja Kahlens) intervenes and becomes entangled with McClintock, setting off a power struggle with Resnick. Under Eric Johnson’s shamelessly heavy-handed yet effective direction, the cast provide scene-chewing performances that somehow fit perfectly into Serling’s breast-beating play. Rusch fills every moment of his performance as the big-lug boxer with Serling’s bathos — excruciating and sparkling with life. The design team combines to create the dark Hopper world with enormous skill in this tiny theater.
SkyPilot Theatre Company at T.U. STUDIOS, 10943 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 24. (800) 838-3006. (Tom Provenzano)
By Daryl H. Miller – June 4, 2007
Feeling every punch he takes
“Requiem for a Heavyweight” is the “Death of a Salesman” of the prizefighting world, as powerful today as when the Rod Serling teleplay first aired in 1956.
At a tiny North Hollywood theater, Bob Rusch delivers a performance that in every way lives up to the heavyweight’s nickname: “Mountain.” Even when released from boxing gloves, Rusch’s hands remain curled into fists, indicating the many years they’ve spent inside the leather. Years back, Mountain was a serious title contender, but after 111 fights, he’s on the ropes.
“What did I do wrong?” he asks after losing his latest bout. “You aged,” his manager replies.
Thereafter, the boxer walks around with the world’s weight slumping his shoulders. But on those rare occasions when he rises to his full height, watch out, because he’s still got some fight left in him. Ken Butler, as the manager, maintains a hard-bitten exterior that is meant to hide guilt (he’s betrayed Mountain) and fear (he faces imminent ruin).
Worry nevertheless sneaks past the edges of Butler’s iron mask, letting us know the guy’s not a total monster, at least. When the emotions finally break loose, the audience is seated close enough to see tears welling in the actor’s eyes. (Trivia alert: Butler happens to have been a producer of a 1985 Broadway “Requiem” starring John Lithgow.)
The set moodily evokes the ’50s, plywood-thin and pretty much two-dimensional. Even so, the production, tautly directed by Eric Johnson, is sending theatergoers out the doors with telltale wetness on their cheeks.
“Requiem for a Heavyweight,” T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 24. $15. (800) 838-3006. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Origin of a Species: SkyPilot Theatre
They came, they saw, they started a theater – by Steven Leigh Morris – April 4, 2007
L.A.’s actor-driven ensembles are the mainstay of local theatrical activity — 150 to 200 of them at any given time. Some have been here for decades (Company of Angels, Pacific Resident Theatre, Theatre of NOTE, Actors’ Gang and Lonny Chapman’s Group Repertory Theatre, just for starters). They come; they go. Why they go isn’t hard to imagine, with theater’s infamous poverty and the apathetic malaise that often lies just beyond a theater’s walls, but why do they keep coming? A brief glimpse at a new troupe on the scene shows that the motives for forming a company in the early ’00s are much the same as they ever were.
Bob Rusch and some friends from Chicago formed SkyPilot Theatre in 2005, after Rusch had been out here five years. In the Windy City, Rusch worked with a company called Trap Door Theater, known for its experimental shows. Rusch says he was also in Steppenwolf Theater’s first-ever ensemble project, a training program for which he was one of 15 selected from more than 500 applicants. After five years in Chicago, however, Rusch was more interested in klieg lights than stage lights.
“I always knew I was going to L.A.,” he explains, adding that he was smacked hard with our fair burg’s infamous disorientation and loneliness.
“I didn’t know anybody, except for a couple of friends,” he says. “It took me about five years to get going, to find an agent, to meet people. In 2004, I was tired of going to classes and doing scenes. I missed acting, the full performance, the journey with the character, the background work.”
Somebody suggested that Rusch do a scene from Rick Cleveland’s JERRY AND TOM in a 2004 production that Rusch reluctantly admits was an Industry showcase, partly funded by a couple of filmmaker friends willing to help Rusch move his career forward. Rusch’s roommate at the time, Eric Johnson, played Tom, and Rusch played Jerry. Dave Florek, a local actor, directed.
However, the showcase turned into something much deeper when the process of researching and creating a role with continuity reminded both performers how much richer acting for the theater can be compared with classroom scenes, or the kinds of out-of-sequence short takes that are the staples of film and TVacting.
Then, in late 2005, Rusch started playing poker online. “I won a substantial amount of money,” he says, which naturally opened new possibilities for how he wanted to spend his time in L.A. Memories of what he’d left behind in Chicago were rekindled. “I figured I would start a theater company,” Rusch explains.
His SkyPilot Theatre Company is named after a song by the Animals. (A “sky pilot” is a military chaplain.)
There are eight members, including designers and a producer. “I saw when Trap Door brought in too many actors, it got too cumbersome when there weren’t enough roles,” Rusch says.
Since Jerry and Tom, SkyPilot has staged three more shows with a decidedly Chicago bent — David Mamet’s SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO, Will Kern’s HELLCAB (about the travails of a Chicago cabby) and a new play, ROCKET MEN, Clyde Hayes’ Mamet-influenced dark comedy about a group of hapless con men.
“I don’t think any of us went into this to be rich and famous,” Rusch says, explaining his theater’s mission. “We all love to play. The inner child wants to go back to that, to do something just a little more pure — not to be artsy-fartsy about this — but to pay tribute to what I’ve seen in the past. I never felt a part of this community. I always felt trapped here. This last year, I really enjoyed living here because of the theater company. It gave me a deeper reason to be out here. I’m realizing that the group of people I have working with me all have those reasons.”
By Jim Crogan
Deck the halls with boughs of folly, frustration, chicanery, and a healthy dose of ribald gallows humor. The show’s unnamed Chicago cabbie (Bob Rusch on Sunday nights in this split cast) may be weighed down by the Christmas blues, feeling powerless to impact his surroundings and haunted by the notion he’s trapped in hell and driving for Satan, but Hellcab is a slice of heaven for the audience. You know you’re watching a good show when you don’t notice the clock. And this is one great show. Director Eric Johnson’s pacing is strictly pedal-to-the-metal. And writer Will Kern demonstrates a tremendous ear and deft feel for realistic dialogue that is spoken by a host of different characters.
Rusch has the look, feel, and attitude of a real-life cabbie who must navigate the human flotsam he encounters and still retain a sliver of humanity toward even the most whacked-out of fares. The rest of the Sunday night cast is also first-rate, as it jumps from one character to another, no two the same. Chuck Raucci, who plays very smarmy, very creepy people, is a hoot as the frazzled coke freak trying to score. Benton Jennings and K.J. Middlebrooks show tremendous range as they move in and out of the cab, alternating among characters that are weird, threatening, buffoonish, or Middle America. Diane Sellers is top-notch as a pregnant woman about to have a breakdown and a baby. Catherine Davis Cox is fine as a sexy contracts lawyer who makes a play for her driver. And Broocks Willich deftly switches among an uptight Brit, a drugged-up street person, a safe and sane receptionist whom the cabbie reaches out to, and a down-and-dirty local gal who takes no shit and makes no apologies for how she lives her life.
All rolls out on a very small stage. Cox doubles as set designer with James Sharpe; they deserve kudos for constructing a nifty set using only the front of a cab and a backdrop photo of Chi-town in winter. It’s not your usual Christmas fare, but it’s well worth a look.
Presented SkyPilot Theatre Company at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Suite D, Burbank. Sun. 7 p.m., Mon. 8 p.m. Oct. 15-Dec. 11. (323) 960-4418.
By Joseph N. Feinstein – May 2004
This one-act, sixty-minute play evinces both Mr. Mamet’s inexperience and future greatness. In any event, it features four actors – Kyle Bornheimer, Bob Rusch, Julie Mintz and Pip Newson – who are definitely headed for stardom.
Bernie’s (Rusch) fast-talking, wise-ass remarks about women to his buddy Danny (Bornheimer) reflect the cleverness and understanding of human nature in the neophyte Mamet’s depiction of a summer in 1976. Deborah’s (Mintz) innocence in her live-together relationship with Danny also portrays the pitfalls in such an arrangement. And Joan’s (Newson) caustic remarks and overt jealousy in losing a friend were acted with just the right intonations.
This play, like several others seen lately, makes the mistake of using at least twenty blackouts in the sixty minutes of performance. In fact, there’s more black than light during its running time. One can become breathless following the characters and their interactions. Just when the viewer is getting into the action of the scene, it’s over. Strangely, one of the best scenes in the play happens during one of the blackouts.
Perversity is being “directed away from anything right or good.” In this case, Mamet is attempting to show us – as if we didn’t already know – the several ways both men and women regard each other and the crass terms and characterizations we use in describing the other when our romantic and sexual needs aren’t met. And, ultimately, we can see the loss of the compassion and love we all could rise to in our treatment of each other if sensibility and sensitivity became ours.
Cleverly, imaginatively, yet somewhat naively, Mamet tell his story. Credit a fine cast and some good direction to James Sharpe in keeping the play moving as well as it does. Carlene Bezevic’s interesting 70′s costumes were first rate. We’ll look forward to future performances by SkyPilot, this new kid on the block.
Sexual Perversity in Chicago Sidewalk Studio Theatre 4250 Riverside Dr. Burbank Sunday @ 7:00 p.m., Monday @ 8:00 p.m. No charge for admission Donations accepted. Free wine and soft drinks during this opening run.