• THEATRE REVIEW

      A review of three small theater gems!

      By Carol Edger Germain

      "The Chosen" at The Fountain Theatre (Photo - Ed Krieger).

      “The Chosen” at The Fountain Theatre (Photo – Ed Krieger).

      The Chosen

      “The Chosen,” a book by Chaim Potok about two Jewish boys in New York in the 1940’s who live “five blocks and worlds apart” was first published in 1967, and although I’ve known of it for decades, I never managed to get it on my reading list.

      I am happy to finally be exposed to the story in this gripping production of such an emotional story. It is also quite relevant in the divisive atmosphere in our country today. The central characters, Reuven (Sam Mandel) and Danny (Gor Dvirtsman) are both sons of Jewish rabbis, but could not be further apart in their beliefs, outlook, and life experiences. Reuven is an Orthodox Jew, his father (Jonathan Arkin) encourages him to embrace the world, and he is modern, enthusiastic, outgoing, and dresses in contemporary clothing, while Danny is being raised in a strict Russian Hasidic household and dresses in the traditional Hasidic style, with long curls over his ears, tall hat, and long coat, and is stiff and awkward and always encouraged by his father (played by Alan Blumenthal in the production I saw, now being played by Steven B. Green) to stay in his head and constantly be thinking about the Talmud. Danny’s father is warm and nurturing when leading his shul, but silent and withdrawn around his son, rarely offering affection or approval, while Reuven’s father encourages his curiosity, engages him intellectually, and gives praise where appropriate. Reuven and Danny’s story delves deeply into the themes of reconciling religious discipline and secular influences, understanding and accepting differences, and bridging the gap to allow acceptance and friendship.

      Although many times plays and movies made from books fail to reach the depth of the book, but this production manages to explore a wide range of topics, delving sufficiently into the interaction of the boys as they explore their differences in reacting to different situations and ideas, reaching an emotional resolution. I was thoroughly absorbed in every minute of the two-hour story, and was struck by it’s relevance to the differences in our current political atmosphere, which seem insurmountable. Although the country, and the world, may not be able to reach such a resolution as there is no time for us to become friends two-by-two, hopefully the premise of universal understanding and acceptance can seep into many more minds and there can be a higher level of peaceful coexistence among the people of our country.

      The Chosen
      • Based on the novel by Chaim Potok
      • Adapted for the stage by Chaim Potok & Aaron Posner
      • Directed by Simon Levy
      • Produced by Stephen Sachs, Deborah Lawlor
      • Starring Jonathan Arkin, Steve B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, Sam Mandel
      The Fountain Theatre
      5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles CA 90029

      • Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 27; May 4, 18, 25; June 1, 8
      Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 28; May 5, 19, 26; June 2, 9
      Sundays at 2 p.m.: April 29; May 6, 20, 27; June 3, 10
      Mondays at 8 p.m.: April 30; May 7, 21; June 4
      Extended till June 10
      • Tickets: $20.00 – $35.00 (discount tickets for some dates available @ goldstar.com)
      Purchase here.

      Ο Ο Ο

      Group Rep’s revival of “Deathtrap” (Doug Engalla)

      Group Rep’s revival of “Deathtrap” (Doug Engalla)

      Deathrap

      What a fun afternoon! I was glad it had been many years since I had seen the movie so I forgot the exact details of all the twists and turns and who did what to whom, so the surprises and laughs were fresh for me.

      The Group Rep is an accomplished group and the acting, sets, and direction in their productions are always first rate. There was no exception to that rule in this production of Ira Levin’s infamous comic thriller. Sidney (Robert Benedict Nello) is a successful writer of thrillers but seems to be suffering from what he hopes is a temporary spell of writer’s block. He’s desperate to get the juices flowing and get another successful production to the stage but can’t quite get the plot lined up. He and wife Myra (Gina Yates) decide to think outside the box and step over the line in their plan to acquire a successful script for Sidney to submit for production. Coincidentally Clifford (TJ McNeill), a former student of Sidney’s, has sent Sidney a script he has written, asking for Sidney’s comments. Sidney graciously invites him to his country estate to “collaborate” on the script, with Clifford presumably not perceiving Sidney’s true intention. Quirky tenant Helga Ten Dorp (LizAnne Keigley) proves to be a catalyst for some of the numerous changes of direction because of her psychic abilities and Sidney’s attorney, Porter Milgrim (Lloyd Petersen), also intuits something a bit off kilter about the comings and goings at the estate.

      Fast paced changes, a surprise a minute, and plenty of laughs, even though murder is involved, and even the ending is a surprise, so don’t think you’ve got it figured out! Highly recommended.

      Deathtrap
      • Directed by Jules Aaron
      • Starring Gina Yates, TJ McNeill, Lloyd Petersen
      Lonny Chapman Theatre
      10900 Burbank Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 91601

      • Free street parking
      • Until May 20, 2018
      Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:00 pm
      • Tickets: $25, Students/Seniors: $20 (discount tickets for some dates available @ goldstar.com)
      Purchase here.

      Ο Ο Ο

      Tony Duran and Jesus Castanos-Chima in "ICE" (Photo - Cooper Bates).

      Tony Duran and Jesus Castanos-Chima in “ICE” (Photo – Cooper Bates).

      ICE

      The 24th Street Theater is celebrating its 20th anniversary and I wish I had known about it sooner. It’s a wonderful neighborhood theater, with programs for neighborhood youth, and family-oriented bilingual productions.

      Their definition of “family-oriented” doesn’t mean cartoon characters and comic book superheroes, it means productions with important themes, inspiring all ages to think, enjoy, cry, and laugh. The plays are done in Spanish and English, with supertitles showing translations back and forth depending on which language is being spoken on stage (it is mostly English in this show). Their production of “ICE” succeeded in representing their mission, bringing us a story about two undocumented immigrants from Sinaloa, armed only with their Tia’s amazing salsa recipe, cojones, and the drive to do anything to achieve their American Dream. Meanwhile, they learn what they must endure and sacrifice to survive while struggling for independent success, including leaving family behind, taking hard jobs for little money, and being disrespected and cheated. It’s 1988, the Dodgers are on their way to the title, and Chepe (Jesús Castaños-Chima) and his cousin Nacho (Tony Dúran) are hoping to reunite with childhood friend Fernando Valenzuela as well as win the contest for the “most American” food truck.

      Great use is made of the small stage space (the ice cream/taco truck was a popular prop for audience selfies at the end of the play), including the use of videos, lighting effects, and music to expand the scope of the production. The amazing Davitt Felder plays not only the Irish Catholic priest assigned to the local parish but also every role in the videos, representing typical encounters with those who take advantage of immigrants. He also sings beautifully. This production touched my heart because not only did it represent Los Angeles and its interwoven Mexican culture which has existed since the beginning of the state (so many examples throughout the play, some of which I missed but were explained to me by my friend who attended with me, whose family is Mexican and has experienced many of the situations in the play) , but it also made the case for immigration reform and granting respect, equality, and the chance to achieve American success to those who have more recently immigrated here.

      ICE
      • Written by Leon Martell, commissioned by 24th STreet
      • Directed by Debbie Devine
      • Starring Jesús Castaños-Chima, Tony Duran and Davitt Felder
      24th Street Theater
      1117 W 24th St, Los Angeles, CA 90007

      • Saturdays and Sundays through June 10
      • Tickets start at $25 (discount tickets for some dates available @ goldstar.com)
      Purchase here.


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