• Considering the size of LA County, I personally consider any event within 30 minutes driving time “Pasadena Adjacent.”

      ~ Carol


      I recently attended three excellent theater events, in Atwater Village, Hollywood, and just west of downtown LA, and all are well worth venturing outside our local community.

      By Carol Edger Germain

      39 Steps play (Photo - actorsco-op.org).

      39 Steps play (Photo – actorsco-op.org).

      – The 39 Steps

      The first show of Actors Co-0p Theatre Company’s 26th Season is “The 39 Steps,” adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan and film by Alfred Hitchcock, directed by Kevin Chesley, produced by Jorie Janeway.

      39-steps-bill (Photo - actorsco-op.org).The play takes place in England and Scotland in the ’30’s, and the set design, lighting and costuming sent the audience back in time on a slapstick, roller-coaster ride with four actors playing numerous characters with physical theatricality at breakneck speed. Timing is everything in a venture like this, and this intimate group has it, miming their way through chases and hiding on trains, kin buildings, on the street, all the while dodging high winds, treacherous water, and low-flying planes. The music and quips referencing other Hitchcock films were great embellishments, in particular the music from “Psycho” and “Vertigo” emphasizing danger and romantic drama. The extremely professional and polished company of four actors flawlessly, hilariously, perfectly played a large roster of characters with instant costume changes and character morphing. Kevin Shewey, new to this troupe, played the hapless wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time Richard Hannay, who’s random encounter at the music hall with the dangerous, gun-toting, but soon to be deceased Anabella Schmidt (played by Lauren Thompson, but don’t mourn too long, she is soon reincarnated as various other females who will encounter Richard Hannay in this screwball story). The two clowns/shady characters/etc. etc., Townsend Coleman and Carly Lopez, sped through reimaginings into so many characters I lost count, and proved that you really can get ready to go somewhere and be out the door in less than 2 minutes. The madcap physical comedy among the actors was mesmerizing and at times I felt like I was visually disentangling one of those metal puzzles you have to separate without bending, breaking or cutting the wire, and every time the actors did it precisely, nothing broken but a lot of climbing, stretching and spinning representing various physical ventures (the window escape scene is particularly clever). The audience gets some exercise as well, continuously giggling, guffawing, clapping and shaking their heads. But it’s not all vaudeville, the smoky drama, convoluted chases, espionage, and spy story are all there as well.

      A delightful evening at a unique theater, conveniently right off the Forest Lawn/Barham/Cahuenga route (you don’t even go down into Hollywood), at a theater on church grounds with free adjacent parking.

      The 39 Steps
      • Through October 29
      (Discount tickets for some dates at goldstar.com).
      Actor’s Co-Op Theater
      At the campus of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood
      1760 N Gower St., Hollywood, CA 90028
      (enter parking lot on Carlos).

      • Buy tickets here.

      Ο Ο Ο

      La Razon Blindada play (Photo - Juan Tallo).

      La Razon Blindada play (Photo – Juan Tallo).

      – La Razon Blindada

      I did not know about this theater which has been producing well as community-based events for 20 years, and knew in one visit I had missed out and will go back soon.

      La Razon Blindada-bill (Photo - 24thstreet.org).Their current season, themed “Speaking Up/Standing Up,” kicked off with an intense gut-punch in “La Razon Blindada” (“Armored Reason”), resurrected from an award-winning run seven years ago. Written by Aristides Vargas, the play was inspired by the classic novel “El Quixote” by Cervantes and “The Truth About Sancho Panza” by Franz Kafka, but was primarily created because of Aristides’ experience of being exiled and his brother Chico’s experience of being imprisoned, isolated, and tortured during the dark and brutal military regime in Argentina held power from the 1970s to 1983. Chicho Vargas and other political prisoners held in Rawson Prison were only allowed to interact for one hour a week, but had to sit and never stand. Jesus Castaños Chima and Tony Durán play two of those prisoners, who determine that they will entertain each other with stories of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and dub themselves De La Mancha and Panza. Through their rapid dialogue we are transported through our own experience and interpretation of the images they create for each other with their dialogue, debate, and shared thoughts rapidly spewed during their brief encounters. With minimal props and chairs and a table on wheels, a lot of motion is created to spin alongside your mind as the verbal action unfurls. The announcement at the beginning is important to remember. The play is presented in rapid Spanish with English super-titles running above the action, and the announcer points out that whether reading or listening, the pace is quick but do not worry if you miss a word here and there, it will not matter, you will experience what the actors are creating, it’s part of the environment they had to endure, communicating as much as possible in one hour per week. With that mindset, the audience is free to experience the mesmerizing, hallucinatory, and reality-suspending atmosphere of the dialogue and action. It was a dark dramatization, based on truth, but yet there was much comedy as well as the actors entertained each other, one well aware that the other was on the brink of madness and striving to keep him from going over while fighting his own despair. The play is closed to 90 minutes, and for the first 60 I was hurled through their fantasy, letting my mind cruise along with theirs, saddened by their plight, but entertained by their antics of denial. For the last part of the play, the dialogue slows a bit, stark reality comes back, and my state of mind and emotions descended with them back to reality and despair. I was so overcome I could not speak and literally had to go to the restroom for a few deep breaths in order to come back to the lobby and chat a bit, as well as enjoy homemade tamales made by the grandmother of one of the young people working with the theater.

      That is good theater! The theater is known for it’s work for and by children, no light “suitable for children” fare on Saturday mornings, but also for exposing children to deeper subjects with responsibility, with educational focus, not shock value.

      I’m thrilled (but somewhat embarrassed at my timing) to have discovered this treasure of a small theater, and look forward to upcoming plays in this series (including a “comedy” entitled ICE because everyone needs to be able to laugh about a serious subject now and then).

      La Razon Blindada
      • Through October 15*
      *You can also catch it in November at Los Angeles Theatre Center.
      (Discount tickets for some dates at goldstar.com).
      24th Street Theater
      1116 24th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007
      (Free street parking and secure lot at 24th & Hoover for $5).

      • Buy tickets here.

      Ο Ο Ο

      Fixed play (Photo - Darrett Sanders).

      Fixed play (Photo – Darrett Sanders).

      – Fixed

      The third play in my weekend of Pasadena Adjacent plays was “Fixed” at Atwater Village. I perhaps should have saved the comedy for last, I had barely recovered my emotions from La Razon Blindada the day before, and here was another intensely emotional offering. But of course a play that stays with you at such a level is good theater and I was ready for more, and not disappointed.

      Fixed-bill (Photo - echotheatercompany.com).The unique perspective of this play is that according to the playwright, Boni B. Alvarez (who also plays Gigi the employer/house mother of the family of the cohabiting family of coworkers), it was dually inspired by Calderón’s Spanish Golden Age Drama “The Physician Of His Own Honor” and the 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning,which detailed New York’s then-underground drag queen “ball culture,” and it is set in L.A.’s Historic Filipinotown.

      There is much beauty, talent, and humor in this play, and much for us to learn about identity, gender, diversity, and the complicated ramifications of various such issues for individuals. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and educational, a good combination. The entertainment is nonstop, since we are never off the runway (there is a 3/4 stage setup, so the actors walk down the middle, enter from the back, etc.), and the actors are given opportunities to display their modeling and dancing talents frequently. Meanwhile, the drama builds in the background, as we become aware of the events, players, and perspectives leading to the final act. The play opens with a dreamy, diaphanous, and glittering ball sequence, where we meet Miracles (Chris Aguila), a tall butterfly-like creature in a beautiful gown being lifted by her fellow performing masseuses,Carmie and Jenny (Allen Lucky Weaver and Tonatiuh Elizarraraz). In the ball culture, the models typically use the last name of the house where they work and live, in this case House of Malacanang, so they share the last name. The story quickly peels off the layers of who Miracles is, the most important thing in her life being her love for macho, in-the-closet Mario, who is politically connected and whose actions threaten the image of his family. He mentions to Miracles that their relationship would be much easier if she were a girl, but it’s not clear if he really means that or if he’s letting her know there are limitations. She interprets it as the former, and that’s where the drama and tragedy begins to build to the paralyzing last scene (paralyzing to me because I couldn’t leave my seat for a few minutes after it ended).

      The play ambitiously touches on so many aspects of human interaction – gender, family, race, trust, honesty, self-acceptance, and so much more. Obviously many of these issues were peripheral issues related to the mainline of Miracles’ story and couldn’t be developed deeply, but served to put them in our minds, and I have thought about those issues many times since seeing this play. It’s beautiful, human, unique and relatable, I highly recommend it.

      • Through October 22
      Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays 8:30 pm, Sundays 4pm.
      (Discount tickets for some dates at goldstar.com).
      Atwater Village Theater/Echo Theater Company
      3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039

      • Buy tickets here.

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