Reviewer Catherine Siggins


Review for COCK
Rogue Machine Theatre, Monday 22 Sept.  2014
Reviewer Catherine Siggins

With a title like COCK, you might expect to see a sexually explicit production about the exploits and uses of the male sexual organ. Instead what you get is fully-clothed verbal sword fighting in Mike Barltett’sOlivier award-winning tragicomedy about identity and sexual desire.
John (Patrick Stafford), is a young man in a gayrelationship with an older man, M (Matthew Elkins). When John decides he needs to leave the relationship, he meets the feminine and lonely W (Rebecca Mozo), and he falls in love. Conflicted and confused by his feelings, John runs back to M, seeking the help of his former boyfriend to understand what is happening and whyis willing to forgive, and suggests that all three meet for dinner, so they can discuss it all like civilized adults. Both M and W are eager to help John reach a decision, as both think he is going to choose in their favor. What happens is the dinner party turns into a war for emotional supremacy. As M puts it, it’s the ultimate bitch fight. The arrival of M’s father (Gregory Itzin) doesn’t help either. John is pressured into making a choice, but more then that, into deciding “what he is” sexually. Like a child stuck between warring parents, he is being guilt tripped into making an impossible decision, and for John it has devastating results.

Bartletts dialogue is barbed, witty and gets straight to the point, essentially an ultra-modern comedy ofmanners stripped of the drawing-room. Bartlett raises the interesting question of identity, and how we are defined by our sexual preferences in society. Bartlett said he wrote the play as a reaction to why we still feel pressurized into naming what sexual bracket we belong: Gay, Straight or Bi, when really we should be saying ‘I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses”. As John says ‘“it’s about who the person is. Not man or woman but what they’re like.”

Staged in a small space at Rough Machine Theatre on Pico, the set consists of 3 rows of seating in the round, and a performance space no more then 15 feet in diameter, very much like a cock fighting ring. With no set dressing or props, only the four actors and taut dialogue, it is all about the characters and their dilemma. Scenic Designer, Stephen Gifford, has chosen to boldly decorate the space using visually striking bright emerald green on every surface, walls, floor, seats, painted with a pattern of three Keith Haring-esque lines. This very intimate in-your-facesetting highlights the performers, who manoeuvrephysically and verbally around each other, and it creates the feeling of entrapment John feels internally. More then that, the focus is put directly on the ideas being explored, and the tactics couples use on each other in relationships to maintain control or the status quo.
Under Cameron Watson’s direction, all four performers are riveting to watchPatrick Stafford gives a moving and intense performance as the wide-eyed man-child, John, hungry for unconditional love and safety, eventually brought to his knees, sobbing, silenced with paralyzing indecision. Rebecca Mozo is both girlish and grounded, giving W allure and strength in equal measure, and leaves no doubt as to why she attracts John. Matthew Elkins’ sizzles as peevish stock-broker, M, multi-layered, astute, operatic, vulnerable and highly entertaining, he never misses a beat, and Gregory Itzin gives a touching performance as his father, F, who struggled to accept his son’s homosexuality, but now is enthusiastically onboard, while still maintaining his old school sexism.

Goodbye To Marilyn: A love letter review.

Marilyn Monroe (Melanie Cruz) enters her bedroom. She seems lost and listless, unfocused, drunk and full of self-pity. Feeling abandoned and ignored by her lovers JFK, and his brother Bobby, and in an attempt to dull her pain, she downs numerous pills, till Marilyn suddenly finds herself in her room with ex-husbands Joe DiMaggio (Adam Selmon), and Arthur Miller (Chris Karmiol), fathoms of her barbiturate and vodka soaked mind. 

Director Michael Philips has written a piece that gives a fictional alternative to the last hours of Marilyn’s life, but instead of tragically dying alone, he has given her companions to ease her passing. 

It is in the context of her personal life, her marriages and sexual relationships, the abandonment and abuse of her early life, played out through reminiscent conversations, enactments of first meetings, and rehashing of old grievances, that we see Marilyn’s need for love, admiration, and her deep desire for a familial belonging she never had as a child, and that she had hoped to find with these men. 

Philips says his intention when writing the play was not to answer any questions about the circumstances of Marilyn’s death, rather to present the comforting idea that she did not die alone, that “ As we are dying, our loved ones come and give us peace”.  A nice idea indeed, but sadly, it’s his desire not to answer any questions that is the problem with this piece- it lacks purpose and the actor must struggle to find its focus. The actors do their best to bring this piece to life, but the characters feel underwritten. This becomes very apparent in the abrupt ending of the play. The audience felt like they’d had the rug pulled from under them and that there was missing some vital piece of information. Marilyn seemed to have felt the same way, as she is ushered back into bed by Miller in an untimely fashion.  She never gets the chance to leave us with a parting thought. It didn’t help that there is an intermission, that splits the play into two rather unbalanced pieces, whose purpose is to showcase some wonderful musical performers for the audience’s entertainment. As enjoyable as that is, it works against the piece. 

The staging isn’t helpful either. Granted, the director has limited options in such a small theatre space, but the set and lighting design are rudimentary and lack ingenuity. 

However, the play is not without it’s good moments. In the dialogue, Philips has recreated the snappy vernacular of the period very well, and the interaction between the ex-husbands and Marilyn is not without wit, humor and pathos, which are played well by all three actors.

What becomes apparent through the course of the play is even when Marilyn has companions at the end, they do not bring peace, but stir up old memories and hurts, just as in her own words, from a poem dated 1956, “On the screen of pitch blackness / comes the shapes of monsters / my most steadfast companions ... / and the world is sleeping / ah peace I need you – even a peaceful monster.”

Review August 4, 2014

Reviewer, Catherine Siggins
"All's Well That Ends Well"
Theatricum Botanicum, Topanga Canyon

So let me ask you, what should an educated young woman do when she falls madly in love but is rejected, by the object of her affection, for being of a different class and beneath him? The correct answer is kick him to the curb. However, that would make for a very short play, so Shakespeare's heroine, Helena (much like Helena in Midsummer's) obsessively sets out to win a rather unworthy man by risking death, faking her demise, and setting a honey trap to bed her unwilling husband, proving the adage "All cats look grey in the dark". Sounds fun right?! 

To celebrate Shakespeare's 450th birthday, Theatricum Botanicum Theatre company is staging "All's We'll That Ends Well" in their All-Shakespeare Repertory Season. Helena, daughter of a famous doctor, as fallen for her guardian's son, Bertram, the son of the Countess of Rousillon, in whose court she had lived with her father. Bertram is leaving for Paris to attend the king, so heartbroken Helen hatches a plan to save the life of the king in return for being allowed to marry any man at court. When she saves the king, she asks for Bertram's hand, but Bertram is having none of it. He is young, wants his freedom to choose who he shall marry, and to assert his manhood, and he refuses telling her she is inferior in birth. He will only be her husband the day she gets his family ring from him and when she becomes pregnant with his child, a challenge indeed when your husband hates you. To escape his fate, and the kings wrath, Bertram runs away to fight for the Duke of Florence, aided and abetted by the conceited popinjay Parolles, and poor Helena is left abandoned, and feeling she will be the reason for his death. She decides to leave France in the hope Bertram will return to his home. On her travels her path crosses that of Bertram, who she hears is trying to seduce a young Florentine maid, Diana. With the help of Diana and her mother, they trick Bertram, so she can obtain his ring and consummate the marriage. That being done she returns to France, to a court that believes her dead, just in time to save Bertram who has been accused of her death. 

Described as one of his problem plays, All's Well cannot be easily classified as either comedy or tragedy. Based on Boccaccio's Decameron, a collection of love stories, it also has elements of a Morality play of the 15th century: the main protagonist's inherent weakness are assaulted and tested by outside forces, the supporting characters represent moral qualities, the virtues and vices, or abstractions such as death and youth. This conflict between age and youth is present in this play, an ailing king, an elderly countess and advisor, all virtuous and handing out wisdom to the younger characters, whose values are as fickle as their fashions fleeting. Deception, pretense versus truth, also a component of the morality play,  is present in this play. A vice character will expose his wickedness to the audience, as Parolles does when he pretends to go in search for the drum. 

Gender roles,  class structure, male versus female sexuality and values are all examined. The main protagonist is a woman who defies gender conventions. The male lead is forced to marry, as is usual for daughters. The play attacks the belief that wealth and upper class status are more valuable then strength of character and honor, challenging the values of contemporary audiences in today's world of an ever expanding wealth gap, and appearance and celebrity obsessed consumer culture. "Good alone is good without a name", or these days a Twitter account.

The whole cast gives fine performance. Willow Geer plays Helena with a charming mixture of girlish enthusiasm and heartfelt determination. Max Lawrence's foot stomping spoiled man-child stops Bertram from being contemptibly cruel, allowing us to believe he may find redemption. Earnestine Phillips exudes warmth, playfulness, and maternal strength as the Countess Rousillon. Her scenes with the clown, LaVatch, are a treat, full of nudge nudge wink wink moments. Alan Blumenfeld is wickedly saucy as Lavatch, his comedic timing and use of song very entertaining. As wise old courtier Lefeu, Melora Marshall is a masterclass in physical transformation. 

Adding another layer to the kings words "Our bloods of colour, weight, and the heat pour'd all together, would quite confound distinction", directors Ellen Geer & Christopher W. Jones have chosen to cast the aristocrats with black of colour. They have used the cast and space to maximum effect in his classical production, dovetailing the scenes smoothly, without breaking the flow of the action. As one scenes draws to a close, so through the trees you can see the other cast approach, enter and exit from out of the trees or up through the seating, one scene dissolves into the next, holding the energy. 

LA Weekly we're not wrong to vote this theatre "Best Outdoor Theatre Space". As dusk falls in the canyon, you sit beneath the boughs of trees, serenaded by the song of crickets. Ever so often a bat will dive bomb the wide wooden stage before disappearing into the wooded slopes surrounding it. One is allowed to fantasize they are the steeds of fairies. Truer words were never spoken to describe the end of my stressful hectic weekend as I made my drive home, feeling All's Well That Ends Well. 

The One I Love
Director Charlie McDowell
Starring Elizabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, & Ted Danson.

On general release from the 22nd August comes the deeply satisfying and funny feature debut of emerging director Charlie McDowell, The One I Love.

Young married couple, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss), are in crisis. Much to their disappointment, their marriage didn't turn out to be the couples equivalent of Ferris Bueller's Day Off as it had promised at the start. It's been just over a year of marriage and the thrill they felt when they first met, brought on by a midnight adventure of being caught trespassing in a neighbors pool, has given way to the suspicion that they may have made a mistake, and a desiderium to reclaim that feeling, no more so as Ethan strayed off the reservation in search of thrills with another. To save the sinking ship, they go seek the help of an overly candid couples therapist (Ted Danson), who in the shadow of dissonant defeat, sends them on a weekend to an idyllic house retreat, a place so romantic, so special he tells them, it has been the saving grace of many of his clients marriages. A beautiful home, achingly stylish in lush gardens, with pool, and guest house over the hedge. 

From there the film unfolds how you would expect. Ethan and Sophie engage in the usual romantic activities, and loaded conversations, of a couple on a mission to rekindle romance. There is hope. However, while exploring the grounds, Sophie enters the guest house and has rather an unexpected experience, that is everything and more then she hoped for, but sets in motion the true test to their marriage, and perhaps their very understanding of themselves.

To say more would totally spoil this film, which is part romantic comedy, part fantasy, and definitely as they say in the film, something out of the Twilight Zone. This well crafted indie dramedy is a surprise, although the quality of the performances is everything you would expect from it's stars, Moss and Duplass. These actors work fantastically together, a fine mixture of chemistry and emotional depth. One can't help but get caught up with them in their struggle between their commitment to each other and their hearts desire.

Beautifully shot on location by seasoned cinematographer Doug Emmett at a friends property in Ojai, where McDowell grew up, this film was a hit at Sundance this year, and has rightly earned McDowell much praise. Screenwriter Justin Lader and director have in this film asked questions very much on contemporary adults minds, how to have a successful marriage and keep the chemistry alive, though sprinkled with essence of the surreal. 

Apart from being highly enjoyable, I can guarantee this movie most certainly will create some lively aprés-movie conversation. 


By byrony Lavery


Critical Action Theatre Company has brought together an exceptional team to create a production of the highest quality, for their first outing, Frozen by Bryony Lavery, to showcase a promising future. It opens with a series of monologues from the three main characters. We learn that Ralph has abducted, sexually assaulted and killed Nancy’s daughter, one of many children he has killed over the years, in a local shed. Agnetha, a psychiatrist, is traveling to the UK to continue her research on serial killers, and interview Ralph. The play covers a period of 20 years, most of which Nancy spends holding on to hope of her daughter’s return, eventually learning the brutal truth, which happened on her doorstep. 
The title of the play refers to the emotional state of all three characters, emotionally frozen in different ways by traumatic events they have lived.
Based on real people and events, most notably on psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis, and Marian Partington, sister of a victim of serial killers Frederick and Rosemary West, the play asks the question, when and how does it become possible to forgive the unforgiveable? Lavery’s two women provide a possible answer from two very different sides, one based on understanding the killers own history of childhood abuse and physical injury that contributed to abnormal brain function and behavior, the other, on a mother’s need to reclaim her life before her pain and anger destroy her. 
Anthony Mark Barrow directs a taut production, and he is definitely a director to watch. His time working with Debra Warner no doubt having been a strong influence, he has cast powerful actors equal to the emotional shifts of the play. He has chosen to let the play run uninterrupted, at approximately 1h 20mins, which is a smart move, as it intensifies the tension as it builds through the play, a gift to his performers, who have gone deep into their character’s worlds. 
All the cast excel, even John Delbarian and Nicklaus Von Nolde, as Guards, who mostly are silently standing to the sides but engaged throughout.  The performances are all very realistic, and well observed. 
Serena Berné plays Agnetha with conviction and great humor. She shifts between emotional crisis and professional detachment with ease. We do wonder whether this woman is not herself suffering a mental collapse and whether she should be spending so much time with the criminally insane.  
John Perkins is mesmerizing as Ralph.
Troy Titus-Adams gives a powerful, moving portrayal, and brilliantly captures the mundanity of Nancy, her small town existence. Her pain is palpable; it drives her performance, at times wrung out to the point of breaking. Her encounter with Ralph is genuinely moving.
John Pirkis gives a mesmerizing performance as Ralph, a manipulative, remorseless pedophile, all smiles and charming banter, concealing his warped intentions. His physical work, each twitch and compulsive mannerism speaks volumes as his self-assurance and arrogance come apart to reveal a broken soul beneath. Pirkis elicits true sympathy for this monster of a man. 
Set Designer, Gregg Rainwater, uses minimal set to maximum effect, corrugated sheeting suggests a cold purgatory. Bold color imagery, with artful use of lighting by Sabrina Beattie, and imaginative use of the back wall, gives a cinematic feel. The sound track of reggae and The Clash fix you firmly in 80’s Britain.
This play comes at you like a brick to the head. Uncompromising. Shocking. It engenders a definite feeling of discomfort and pathos.
This production is a must see! 

“Letters From Zora: In her own words” 

by Gabrielle Pina

Pasadena Playhouse, 11 May 2014

Reviewed by Catherine Siggins

Maybe it is because of my Irish upbringing that I can sit and hear a good long winding saga of someone’s life, and not start shifting in my seat. Certainly, it’s not a hard thing to do when it’s the life of one Zora Neale Hurston. I must confess my ignorance when it comes to African American authors, having only read Chester Himes, and Alice Walker, so I am delighted to have been introduced to this fascinating woman in Pasadena Playhouse’s production of “Letters From Zora”.

This one-woman multi-media show takes us from her strained family childhood, sheltered from racism in the first self-governing all black town in Florida, to her tragic demise. In between is a true artists life, creativity and survival, friends and foes, triumphs and tragedy, she wore many hats- BA graduate from Barnard, published novelist, anthropologist studying African folklore across the States, Jamaica, Haiti, Central America, essayist, playwright, a founding member of the Harlem Renaissance, story consultant at Paramount Pictures, Guggenheim Fellow. So she could finish her high school diploma, a 26-year-old Zora passed herself off as 16-years-old, and went back to school. All this she accomplished from the humble start of working as a manicurist and theatrical dresser.
Throughout her career, she encountered much more harsh treatment by the mere fact of being a woman, who according to her male critics, dared to write just as an artist, unfettered by social and racial expectations, in a time when black woman were expected to be neither scholars or free-spirited writers. Zora was determined to write whatever the hell she wanted, and chose simply to write honestly about her experience as a woman, within the African American culture, and about the people she had known when growing up. She didn’t let political or racial issues define her work, and she was criticized by her contemporaries for perpetuating an image of African Americans as unequal to their white counterparts. Rather, she wanted to define African American society by their own culture and standards, outside of white social expectations. This is a philosophy the social activist Grace Lee Boggs would share years later.
Towards the end of her life, despite still being published, she had to work as a housemaid, librarian and substitute teacher. She died penniless and unmourned.
This production, directed by Anita Dashiell-Spark, flies by in 90 minutes. Archival images of Zora, her contemporaries, her friends and the cities she lived in appear on the screen that hangs in back of the simple set. An original period score, by Dr. Ron McCurdy, roots the action without ever overshadowing Ms. Calloway’s performance. Playwright Gabrielle Denise Pina succeeds in dramatizing Hurston’s life, drawing on her letters, works, and recordings that she made in her anthropological work, capturing her verbal agility and vernacular.
As Zora, Vanessa Bell Calloway gives an utterly convincing layered performance, which she plays with great spirit, charm, unwavering stamina and rapid fire delivery; singing, dancing, preaching from stage in full Baptist flow. She uses her voice like the best jazz musicians, to add texture, imagery, sensuality, and heat to her stories. All the time she addresses the audience like an old friend, drawing you in. With this level of energy, she could even afford to slow down her delivery at times.
This play comes as a wake up call for me to learn more about the rich and diverse culture of these United States. If you have any similar desire, this production was a good place to start.

Tickets available at www.plays411.com $25 off use code ZORA25

The Lion In Winter
The Colony Theatre, 
Saturday 3rd May 2014

It’s 1183AD. The place, Chinon, France. We get to spend Christmas eve with King Henry II, and his wife of 30 plus years, the magnificent Eleanor of Aquitaine, and witness them verbally, and almost literally, go to war over which of their three sons will become heir to the throne. The presence of Henry’s mistress doesn’t help matters. This action packed Plantagenet Christmas makes the average aggravating, squabble filled, family gathering tame in comparison, thanks to the bristling anachronistic writing of James Goldman. Hardly a Cliff Richard Christmas....

Though dealing with issues of power, strategic marriages, deceit, plots, politics, mortality and legacy, really, it is on the matrimonial battlefield that this man and woman fuel their fighting, and they’ve used their children as weapons, when not neglecting them, to focus on hurting each other.  Take away the crowns, and you are left with a woman who was desperately in love with a womanizing man, who broke his vows and her heart. In today’s world, fighting couples use lawyers to take property, income, access to children, but in this family, Eleanor was so hurt she went to war with Henry, tried to kill him, and used his sons against him. For this he imprisoned her, and only lets her out for holidays. Yet somehow, they continue to love each other, and that is what really stops them succeeding in killing the other. I think Dorothy Parker said it well, “They sicken of calm who know the storm”. 
Don’t be fooled, The Lion in Winter is a comedy.  Director Stephanie Vlahos has succeeded in creating a production with many laugh-out-loud moments, although, my European sensibilities were expecting something a bit darker. Vlahos has chosen to keep the mood light, shying away from exploring the deeper, more violent sentiments of the characters. 

Mariette Hartley and Ian Buchanan, have created an interesting and likeable Eleanor and Henry, they are enjoyable to watch, though their exchanges somehow lack the viciousness and pain of embattled spouses. Rather, they seem to be engaged in verbal badminton, unusual for two used to waging real wars.
Overall, the experienced cast succeeds in doing justice to Goldman’s acerbic writing. Their English accents are good, as is their comic timing, and they create many a poignant moment. 
They are helped by an excellent award-winning design team. David Potts has created a versatile stage design of Gothic arches, which is quite beautiful. At times warm and welcoming, at times forbidding, thanks to Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting design. Drew Dalzell has used medieval and contemporary songs in his sound design to evocative effect, and the costumes of Katie Bergh really denote the opulence of courtly life.
This production is more Blackadder then Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, but it makes for an entertaining evening. 

-- “The Lion in Winter,” Colony Theatre, 555 North 3rd Street, Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 18. $20-$49. (818) 558-7000 ext. 15 or www.ColonyTheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

THE VORTEX by Noel Coward
Review by Catherine Siggins

Malibu Playhouse April 11- May 18
tickets here

What do Keith Richards & Noel Coward have in common? No, it’s not the allusion to drugs, or that they’re both singer/ songwriters. For director Gene Franklin Smith, Keith’s observations, in his autobiography Life, of the changing societal landscape in Britain in the mid-60’s, mirrored Coward’s England of the 1920’s, when the lines separating the classes were swept away post-war by youth & popular culture...(Read more...)

Noel Coward's A Song At Twilight 
at Pasadena Playhouse

Review by Catherine Siggins

In A Song At Twilight, an aging writer, Sir Hugo Latymer, finds himself in danger of being outed as homosexual to the public and his wife of 20 years, Hilde Latymer, when his former lover, Carlotta Gray, threatens to hand over old love letters to a biographer for publication, which he wrote to his former male secretary, the one true love of his life, thereby destroying his reputation, his only support system, and endangering him with the law. There is to be a reckoning before time runs out for them both. The stakes are high. (Read more...)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Broad Stage -- Santa Monica, CA
The Midsummer Night's Dream Cast at The Broad Stage Theatre, Santa Monica. (Photo credit: Simon Annand)

Two young lovers, Hermia & Lysander, flee Athens to escape the wrath of Hermia’s father & the dire judgment of Theseus, Duke of Athens. They are followed by Demetrius, Lysander’s rival with fighting on his mind, who wants Hermia as his bride, & Helena, Hermia’s childhood friend & the woman cruelly jilted by Demetrius, who aims to win her love back at any cost. A troupe of amateur actors rehearses a play for the King’s wedding feast. They all find themselves in the woods outside the city, & fair sport for the fairy land on their feasting night of Midsummer. (Read more...)


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