This is the final week of the local production of THE JUDAS KISS, David Hare‘s brilliant take on the last years of Oscar Wilde and his doomed relationship with Alfred, Lord Douglas—known to Wilde and the world as “Bosie.”
The play is directed by Michael Michetti, and Rob Nagle‘s uncanny portrayal of the iconoclastic Irish playwright is definitive.
From top: Rob Nagle, (right) as Oscar Wilde, and ColinBates, as Alfred, Lord Douglas, in TheJudasKiss; Bates, Kurt Kanazawa, and Nagle; Nagle (left) and Darius dela Cruz. Photographs by Jenny Graham, courtesy of BostonCourtPasadena.
“As much as I’m engaged with it, with violence, I remain ever hopeful that change is possible and necessary, and that we will get there. I believe that strongly, and representing that matters to me: a sense of aspiration, a sense of good will, a sense of hope, a sense of this idea that one has the right, that we have the right to be as we are.” — Carrie Mae Weems*
The timeless themes of political power, social justice, gender oppression, and valiant persistence are brought to life in a modern context in PAST TENSE, Carrie Mae Weems’ multimedia take on Antigone.
Combining music, spoken word, video, and projected images, PAST TENSE—presented this week in Los Angeles by CAPUCLA—includes works by poet Carl Hancock Rux and composer Craig Harris, and will be performed by Weems, Eisa Davis, Francesca Harper, David Parker, Imani Uzuri, and Alicia Hall Moran, who brought the house down at Disney Hall earlier this week in Bryce Dessner’s Triptych.
*Megan O’Grady, “Carrie Mae Weems,” T: The New York Times Style Magazine, October 21, 2018, 140.
From top: Carrie Mae Weems, Past Tense, in performance; Past Tense production photographs (2) by WilliamStrugs; Carrie Mae Weems, portrait by Jerry Klineberg; Past Tense, in performance with, from right, Alicia Hall Moran, Imani Uzuri, and Eisa Davis. Images courtesy CAP UCLA.
By the mid-1950s, Nat “King” Cole was one of the biggest singing stars in the world and the most prominent African-American, by far, to host his own television variety show. The Nat King ColeShow aired for just over a year during NBC’s 1956–1957 season and drew only one national sponsor—the makers of Arrid deodorant bought a few months of airtime. The slack was taken up by a number of local alcoholic beverage companies—Rheingold in New York, Regal beer in New Orleans, rotgut Thunderbird in Chicago—who didn’t seem to share Madison Avenue’s fear of a boycott once eyes in the South got a look at Cole sharing the stage with such white, female stars as June Christy, Margaret Whiting, Peggy Lee, Gogi Grant, and the raw and raucous Betty Hutton. (Heads must have exploded across the country when mixed-race couple PearlBailey and Louis Bellson appeared as Cole’s guests in July 1957.)
This is the story from which playwright and actor Colman Domingo and writer-director Patricia McGregor have crafted LIGHTS OUT: NAT “KING” COLE, their short and bracing blend of show-stopping entertainment, social activism, and American Grand Guignol, set on December 17, 1957, the final night of the broadcast.
The drama begins with Cole (DuléHill, a picture of grace under pressure) sitting at his dressing-room table, contemplating his future and enduring the indignity of the studio’s make-up artist (Mary-Pat Green) reluctantly lightening his skin with powder. Visited by memories, hallucinations, and nightmares, Cole is confronted with the question: Will he call out the racism and abuse that were/are a part of everyday life for black men and women in this country, no matter how successful, or will he remain the singer white America loved to listen to, but not share a meal with—smooth, dignified, reserved Nat Cole?*
The angel-devil on Cole’s shoulder pushing him to break out of his shell is the triple-threat Rat Packer Sammy Davis, Jr., played by Daniel J. Watts as a delight of motor-mouth megalomania. Singing, swinging, mugging, telling jokes, imitating Cole, and—midway through the show—joining the headliner in a cathartic tap-dance duel that brought down the house, Davis is Cole’s conscience, a release valve for his eleventh-hour breakdown.
About the showstoppers: In addition to the tap number, the vocalists ZonyaLove (as Cole’s mother) and Ruby Lewis (as Betty Hutton, singing Frank Loesser’s “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So”) nail their big numbers and school the audience in Fifties-style professionalism, and Gisela Adisa brilliantly captures the erotic cheek and wonderful feline absurdity of Eartha Kitt.
Edgar Godineaux is the show’s choreographer, and tap and additional choreography are by Jared Grimes. The tight music and vocal arrangements and orchestrations by John McDaniel live up to those by the legendary Nelson Riddle, portrayed upstage with his live band led by David Witham.**
*Six months before the premiere of his television show, Cole was attacked and beaten on stage in Birmingham, Alabama.
**In addition to Witham on keyboards, Greg Porée plays guitar, Edwin Livingston is the bassist, and Brian Miller handles drums and percussion.
From top: Dulé Hill as Nat “King” Cole in Lights Out—Nat “King” Cole, Geffen Playhouse, 2019; Hill and Daniel J. Watts as Sammy Davis, Jr.; Hill and Gisela Adisa as Eartha Kitt; Hill and Ruby Lewis as Betty Hutton; Watts and Hill; Hill. Photographs by JeffLorch.
The ticking clock at the heart of CINDERELLA provided Matthew Bourne with an expedient opportunity to play with circular time when creating his 1997 theater/dance work, which is—along with Play without Words—his closest flirtation with existentialism.
The ghost of Noël Coward haunts the piece, now in revival at the AhmansonTheatre—specifically the 1940s David Lean-directed classics of bourgeois rectitude In Which We Serve and Brief Encounter. And if—twenty years on from his Los Angeles premiere with Swan Lake—Bourne’s mockery of middle-class British values now feels like a reflexive embrace, there are scenes in CINDERELLA where his embroidered patterns transcend their frankly ornamental thrust and affect a lurch (a signature Bourne move) toward magic.
CINDERELLA—which takes place during the London Blitz of 1940—comes alive in its middle section, with the ascent to the ceiling of a large mirrored ball. This forty-minute act—a flashback and its aftermath—is set inside the Caféde Paris, the West End club where Coward introduced many of his cabaret performances. Cinderella’s liberation on the dance floor releases all the principals from the drab, monochrome set of Act One, and the even darker milieu of spivs and streetwalkers in the Underground scene of Act Three. The capital endured over fifty consecutive days of Luftwaffe bombing, and a sense of fatalism walked among the ruins, on stage as in life. An ingenious five-soldiers-and-a-girl ballroom dance represents a beautiful escape from the horrors of war and a summation of its creator’s formula: defiance through energy and joy.
Our guide and guardian throughout the proceedings is The Angel, a conscience figure danced by Liam Mower on opening night. Harry the Pilot, a stand-in for the Prince, was performed by AndrewMonaghan, and Ashley Shaw—the star of Bourne’s The Red Shoes—is a radiant Cinderella.
From top: AshleyShaw in the title role and AndrewMonaghan as Harry the Pilot in Cinderella, directed and choreographed by MatthewBourne; LiamMower as The Angel; Shaw and Monaghan (2); the company in Cinderella; Monaghan and Shaw. All photographs by Johan Persson.
“Working catharsis is my art form, and one of the ways I do that is by the time-honored tradition of making something ridiculous…
“My job as a theater artist is to remind people of things they’ve forgotten about, or they’ve dismissed or buried, or other people have buried for them.” — Taylor Mac, PARIS LA*
Mac—an incandescent magpie of modern culture—is a champion of what he calls “authentic failure,” a process where the performer goes out on a limb and stays there:
“There’s something about getting up there, risking, falling flat on your ass, and then picking yourself up, that—when you’re watching it on a stage—is profound.”*
Mac the performer, in his transformative 24-DecadeHistory of Popular Music shows, risks everything for six, twelve, twenty-four hours at a time. Mac the playwright concentrates his gender-queer socialism into two-hour projects and sends his actors out to walk the plank, where they thrive.
HIR—Mac’s 2014 play in its Los Angeles premiere at the Odyssey—is a wonderfully disturbing satire that imagines a long-abused family reaching its greatest potential by taking revenge on the abusive patriarch (Ron Bottitta), who was—according to his wife—another “mediocre straight white man who’s barely lifting a finger but thinks he’s lifting the world.”
Mom (Cynthia Kania)—who spends enriching weekends at the local museum with her daughter-turned-son Max (Puppett)—no longer cooks or cleans, so when soldier son Isaac (Zack Gearing) returns home from the Middle East, he walks into an exploded kitchen-sink drama of familial detritus.
“Hir”—pronounced “here”—is a pronoun that floats between “her” and “his.” HIR, the play, will be on the boards for only six more weeks. so get your tickets now.