As Charles Shultz so succinctly pointed out in his Charlie Brown Christmas special almost 70 years ago, it’s easy to miss the simple and true meaning of Christmas when our daily lives are inundated by commercialism and a consumer culture that can feel, at times, overwhelming. The simple idea of spreading joy and goodwill can easily be lost among the lights, decor and intense pressures of the holiday season.
And if you’ve seen Shultz’s special, you’ll likely remember when Charlie Brown’s friend Linus steps into the spotlight and reminds everyone about the origins of Christmas.
This year, for the third year running, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will stage their short musical production ‘Night in Bethlehem’ at the Erbes Road church, nestled in the rolling hillsides of Thousand Oaks. The short and lovingly crafted experience, Production Chair Jana Ewing said, is simply intended to “put the Christ in Christmas.”
And there will even be a live donkey.
Visitors park in the lower lots and walk through a gray stone arch that announces their entry into the town of Bethlehem. The straw-strewn town square features a pen with live goats as an interactive petting zoo, and visitors can grind flour and receive a half slice of bread. There is the carpenter’s shop, a basket weaver and bead-maker where guests can make their own bracelets, as well as a shop to make small clay pots shaped like oil lamps designed to hold a candle-shaped LED light. There is also a town scribe who can help you write your name in Hebrew, guided by Grant Brimhall, a name you might recognize from the entrance of the Thousand Oaks Library.
After the village shops a series of arches lead to the main outdoor stage overlooking the north side of Thousand Oaks, with seating to accommodate up to 300 visitors. Set designer Randy Ewing built a theatre-in-the-round to draw the audience into the experience of Mary and Joseph’s entry into Bethlehem as they seek lodging. Director Kerry Anderson has used the space well, staging groups of her angels (alternately played by Karin Szakos and Jon Matthews) who sing ‘Do You Have Room?’ and other familiar tunes.
The entire cast of townspeople, from shopkeepers to shepherds and fishermen have been dressed in eye-popping and vibrant period costumes, the handiwork of costumer Cindi Mullaly.
Reservations are requested for the purpose of crowd management and to accommodate guests as best as possible. Ewing also suggests that visitors dress warm for the outdoor performance. There is a collection point at the entrance of the town for canned goods to be distributed to local food banks Manna and Moorpark’s Pantry Plus. Admission is free, and performances are every thirty minutes.
Night in Bethlehem
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
1600 Erbes Rd, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
Friday, December 8th – Shows every 30 minutes begin at 6:30pm
Sat/Sun Dec 9-10 – Shows every 30 minutes begin at 6pm
Moorpark College Orchestra & Jazz Ensemble Moorpark College Performing Arts Center December 2, 2023, 7pm
Ask Moorpark College adjunct music instructor Brendan McMullin about his upcoming program ‘Harmonious Journeys’ and he quotes Albert Einstein.
“A calm and modest life,” McMullin read from his phone, “brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”
McMullin then calmly and modestly went on to tell of the mission of ‘Harmonious Journeys,’ the December 2nd show at Moorpark College’s Performing Arts Center. McMullin and the school’s Jazz Ensemble will present an eclectic slate of tunes from the band Blood, Sweat & Tears, along with selections from Aaron Copeland and ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’
When McMullin talked recently in Moorpark College’s instrumental rehearsal room, he described the unique juggling act of unifying his students for this year’s performance.
“I’m getting students now that graduated middle school online. I’m starting to get students that were never in a classroom when they started their instrument, or didn’t have that opportunity. So it’s not so much the ability to play as it is the ability to play together. To connect with other people.”
“There’s a natural sense of competition thru middle school, high school, even college,” McMullin said. “What I’m trying to do here is make it so it’s not about competition but about the experience. I don’t audition for chairs. Performing arts is diplomacy: you’re forced to listen to people, express emotions without being insulting. And music’s been the bridge.”
The collaborative experience of the Jazz Ensemble, McMullin said, contains lessons worthy of a lifetime.
“There are certain skills you learn with the performing arts, not just music but also theatre, life skills you can’t learn out of a textbook. The ability to self-reflect is not a natural skill. Playing music develops spatial-temporal reasoning. The ability to visualize complex math problems. It helps with poise and charisma and the ability to connect with people. The whole point of playing together is to connect. If you’re not connecting then you become that speed bump rather than the one that contributes. We have to actively hear each other.”
“I’m training working-level musicians,” McMullin said. “If you become a superstar, you’ve hit a lottery. Kenny G is an anomaly. David Sanborn. But if your goal is to be a working musician, your goal is to make yourself marketable. You’ve gotta take business classes, because you are your product. Being able to network, talk to people, all that – you can practice it like you practice your instrument. By having to be more proactive, a lot of musicians end up becoming business owners.”
How do these future leaders approach the ‘Harmonious Journeys’ performance?
“Our job is to sell an audience on the experience,” McMullin said. “To the point of where they’re going to want to pay money to come see us again. And tell their friends. The goal as a musician is to make other people feel better about themselves, having experienced something with you.”
McMullin and his students first had to collaborate and choose an eclectic mix of tunes for the weekend’s ‘Harmonious Melodies’ performance.
“All the pieces had to fit a theme,” McMullin said, “specifically that they’re American music that lends itself to a jazz ensemble. Blood Sweat and Tears were more mainstream, but they were heavily influenced by jazz. The music is generally a little more sophisticated than your typical pop. There’s improvised jazz solos. There’s changes in style within a tune. The harmony is a little more colorful. It’s more about arc and telling a story as opposed to a lot of repetition. In jazz, there’s a ton of subtlety. More is required if the audience. Jazz is a small community, but they live the life.”
McMullin had to finesse the tunes a little to make the parts fit. “The Blood Sweat and Tears music was not written for jazz big band. They had like four horn players. So I had to take it and rewrite it, expand it for the full band. I think it adds an extra level of energy. ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is mainstream Broadway. It’s very tragic but there’s a lot of story behind it. In my opinion, it’s one of the most incredible musicals out there, along with ‘West Side Story.’”
McMullin hopes that audiences will take away something unique from the Jazz Ensemble’s performance this weekend.
“Having an experience that makes them feel better about themselves, having participated, getting to know people you wouldn’t otherwise get to know. Be inspired, be moved to where they want to come back and see more.”
Does he think a little jazz can help heal the world?
“Things by far are not perfect right now,” McMullin said, “but progress is being made. And that’s what jazz is – the imperfect notes blending in.”
Have you ever woke up first thing in the day wondering where – or who you are?
This is Claire’s (Renee Laramore) daily predicament. She wakes up happy every morning with no idea who she is or what she’s supposed to do.
Luckily her loving husband Richard (Bobby Williams) has got it all figured out. First thing each morning he hands her a bright red manual listing everything she needs to know: who she is, how to run the household appliances, even where her shoes are and the people she’s likely to run into.
Richard explains how she suffers from psychogenic amnesia. “You’re usually very lucid,” he says, “but once you sleep, it’s all gone.”
“That must be very annoying for you,” she says, and proceeds to tell the same joke she tells every day. Then, when Claire wonders aloud if her amnesia was brought on by trauma, Richard excuses himself for the shower.
And that’s when the guy in the ski mask pops up behind her bed.
This man Phillip (Marc Deagon) with the limp and lisp convinces Claire that she’s in danger and needs to come with him immediately. Phillip claims that everything that guy pretending to be her ‘husband’ is all lies. Reluctantly, Claire comes along, joined by the energetic and sarcastic Kenny (Richard LaChance) and they take off in… a police car? Of course, it isn’t long before they’re pulled over by another cop car.
The female officer (Donna Marie Sergi) who approaches doesn’t look or sell the role, and there may be a good reason. Sergi’s uniform hangs off her, and her attempt at swagger resembles more of a broken, sexy strut. And when she gets easily disarmed and abducted by the gang, we begin to get the idea that she may be in cahoots with the whole ‘plan’ that’s going down. Sergi has some particularly entertaining scenes, including one where she indulges in some of Kenny’s pot and begins Jonsing for Denny’s.
Laramore’s take on Claire exudes a natural charm necessary to the role, as we need to like her in order to go along on the journey. Laramore hooks us with a bright smile and charming lines like ‘so I’ve got amnesia, well that’s inconvenient!’ Yet when she arrives in her mother’s kitchen, we begin to see the light seeping through the cracks of her shortened memory.
Her mother Gertie (Rosemary Moffat) is another of the show’s highlights. Having suffered a stroke Gertie reverses her words, interspersing them into an almost unintelligible German gypsy babble. But we get the idea, and can’t help but feel sorry for whoever that was she tried to call on the phone.
It is here in her mother’s kitchen that Claire starts remembering the details of her life in greater detail. And as moments of truth begin to seep through her consciousness, a sock puppet named Binky appears in the kitchen window. The voice behind this foul-mouthed, Brando-esque character is Millet (Chris Passalacqua). He knows Phillip, and might be further in on the whole thing than he lets on right away.
There’s a scene in the family basement where Claire and Millet are playing with boxes of toys and trading stories when a little more truth rolls out. Played with sharp intensity at every turn by Passalacqua, Millet often exposes breaks in his character by speaking through Binky, who’s moments are some of the production’s most engaging.
There’s a lot of gas-lighting going on here, and audiences with a keen eye and a craving for adventure will find it rewarding. Claire leads us along on a fun journey of rediscovery, one that in the end has the strength to hit its audience in the head like a shovel.
The Main Theatre
24266 Main St
Newhall, CA. 91321
ACROSS THE STREET: Newhall Press Room
Hungry before or after the show? Maybe craving a quick glass of wine?
Just a few quick steps across from the theatre you’ll find The Newhall Press Room. A comfortable and ambient little bistro, Laura and her staff offer a wide variety of local and global wines and an ever-changing menu, including Build-it-Yourself charcuterie plates that are a perfect pre- or post-show meal.
There’s plenty of outdoor seating and NPR is open until 10 on Fri & Sat, Sun 7pm. Oh, and did we mention 50% off glass wines through the run of the show?
Local comedian and producer Casey Moran talks about his journey through depression and how a career in sports broadcasting led to the stage
On a recent foggy November night in Moorpark, a disco ball hung above a small corner stage in Jax Pizza on New L.A. Avenue. While a black drum kit stood silent in the corner, Animal from the Muppets jumped through his latest Geico commercial on the overhead TVs.
Maybe he’d drop in and bang out a rimshot for the comedians gracing Jax’s stage. Unlikely, but the city itself may seem an unlikely destination for professional stand-up comedy.
“I got really lucky with this opportunity,” says host Casey Moran. “In June a friend messaged me: ‘I’m working at this place, wanna do a comedy show here?’ I was already doing one in Camarillo.”
A long-time resident of Simi Valley, Moran knows about the sense of isolation even busy suburbs can bring.
“I look at cities, there’s not much going on. This is an opportunity to bring some positivity to a town that could use it. People are all going through stuff. We’re here for them.”
“The best part is when people come up and say ‘thank you for bringing comedy here! It means so much. We needed a laugh.’ I did a show in Simi and someone said ‘I went to a funeral, we came to get a drink and there was a show so we stayed. Thank you so much.’ That’s what it’s all about.”
Some comedians and producers, Moran agrees, have a knack for bringing comedy into unlikely corners.
“What Stephanie Clark does with Funny Girl Events, she is a master at finding a place, a little wine bar and turning it into a comedy show. She’s one of the best at it. And Tom (Clark) is so funny. Those people are what this world needs most.”
So what does Moran bring to a show like Jax?
“We all need laughter. It’s universal. And,” he added, “you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The city beneath the sleepy fog grew up around the straight shot that is New Los Angeles Avenue. The long sloping road served for years as a secret shortcut around the truck scales of the Ventura freeway, poised atop the peak of the Camarillo grade.
Then housing in nearby idyllic suburbs became prohibitively expensive. Developers eyed the little ranch town.
And those new suburbs were going to need entertainment.
Moran’s show at Jax Pizza runs every first Thursday. Recent slates have featured some notable performers: Samantha Hale recently released her comedy special ‘I’m Only Happy When it’s Raining Men,’ and the December 2nd show was headlined by Conan O’Brien writer Laurie Kilmartin.
“Shows are just starting to come indoors again,” Moran said, who speaks often and easily about his battle with clinical depression.
“What the pandemic taught me was – the world got depression. People who didn’t understand depression, maybe they understand it more because they had to isolate.”
“It feels good to do comedy, an art form, to heal not just others but yourself. You start to really realize what’s important. I’ve done benefit shows. Laughter heals. Telling jokes has helped when I didn’t have a therapist. It’s been my therapy, and comics – the Samantha Hales, the Alex Hoopers are my therapists.”
“It’s OK to take a mental health day whether you have issues or not. Sometimes I just wanna lay in bed all day. I can sit inside and cry, but it’s not going to take eight hours. I have to do these things or I’m gonna go crazy.”
The 35 year-old Moran has already worn a lot of hats: comedian, radio announcer, podcaster and producer.
“I worked at the Regal movie theatre in Simi. I was sixteen. Loved it. I was part of this group called UFL: Ushers for Life. The camaraderie, it’s very much like comedians.”
“Maybe there’s a dream job out there. But if there is? I want to create it myself.”
In recent years Moran has found himself more likely alternating between those two enduring masks: the classic Greek Comedy & Tragedy symbols. He may battle depression, but producing comedy shows has been a reason to get out of bed.
“I started comedy because I was a sportscaster,” Moran says of his years working with Angels Radio. “Had an agent, did all that. It was great. When I stopped, I needed an outlet. I did a comedy podcast to help me through it.”
Then came stand-up. “I thought ‘I could try that. I could perform.’ So I went up, bombed for two years and learned how to put on shows.”
Moran recently sat down over a burrito and Sprite to discuss trading in broadcasting for the joy of producing, his time living with depression, and how comedy has helped balance it out.
“I like to produce now more than I like to perform,” Moran said. “Be sure the crowd’s having a good time, that the comics get paid and fed. That’s helped me tremendously. It’s a form of therapy.”
“And it’s gonna sound weird but I didn’t intend for it to be. I thought it was just going to be a way to occupy my time. I had so much time after I left sportscasting. I lost friendships and relationships and all kinds of stuff because I was so focused on ‘making it.’”
“With stand-up, I never wanted to make it. I still don’t. The lifestyle of an actual comic – I don’t want to say I’m not an actual comic, but I’m not someone who can stay out til two in the morning, go on the road to random towns. I have depression, I need to be in bed by ten!”
Moran now revels in the groundwork of assembling shows. Like a baseball manager he assembles a team, provides the field and presents his line-up card on game day.
“Producing gets me that creative outlet. Especially during Covid. People need to let go of what’s building up, building up. Putting on a show, meeting these people, I never thought that was going to help me.”
“As a host, you can be part of the show without being the headlining act. I no longer want the attention. If I can make you laugh by putting on other comics, then I made you laugh.”
“You have to step aside and say ‘I’m not gonna be Jerry Seinfeld,’ but I can be the guy who produces Seinfeld’s show. Other people will get credit and I’m OK with that. When I was younger? I was like ‘fuck that, I wanna be the guy.’”
“What I live for is people coming up after a show and saying ‘hey, this really helped me.’ You don’t realize what you’re working through until you’re midway through it. Then you get messages from people that say ‘hey I didn’t know how to get out of bed today. But then I heard what you said and I related to that. And I got up, brushed my teeth and took a shower.’ That’s why I do what I do. Those messages keep you going.”
When not producing, Moran works with ARC of Ventura County helping adults with developmental disabilities.
“I was in entertainment, making good money. But I hated myself. I didn’t realize it. I didn’t like that cut-throat industry. Now I’m really helping people. And those people are smiling. These are people who have autism, they have reasons not to smile. And I’m mad about, what, not having the wifi code?”
“I don’t know what my reason for living is, but I think I was put on this Earth to do something good for people. I’m hoping that one day I can look back and go ‘OK, this was meant to be.’ There’s a reason I got into entertainment, there’s a reason I got out. There’s a reason I got into sportscasting, there’s a reason I got out of sportscasting. You start to look at that and say ‘OK, what’s next?’
There are plenty of old sayings about being the early bird, sticking to things, going down swinging. An American comedian once said ‘eighty percent of success is just showing up.’
“That’s accurate,” Moran said. “Here’s what you learn in comedy: rejection, how to be heard even when no one wants to hear you, and to speak your truth and hope someone’s listening.”
“In improv, you’re working with other people. But comedy? In comedy it’s only you and the stage. Live by the sword, die by the sword. That stuff happens. You could have a great day, and the next day you get jumped outside of Arby’s. It taught me, don’t go to Arby’s. It taught me to just keep going.”
“Failure is not trying. Not picking up the bat and swinging. You’ve just gotta keep showing up.”
Moran talked about how his role began to come into focus in the comedy scene, and about writing new jokes.
“When I was starting out I did observational stuff, because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. It wasn’t until year four that I wanted to talk about me, to really get into my depression. I’ve never had to deal with people stealing my jokes. Talking about being in a mental hospital? That’s my experience. Someone can’t take that.”
Does he still write about his experiences?
“Yeah. I went on Grinder because I was bored with Tinder. There were times when I put myself in dangerous situations and thought ‘I’m gonna write a joke about this.’ But now? I just need to get home and not die.”
“Now as a host, I prepare my own set like bullet points. It’s a pet peeve of mine when a host spends too much time doing their own jokes, when a host does ten minutes, then five between comics. It’s about the comics. Nobody’s coming to see the host. Just introduce the comic. All you need to do.”
“I’ll do five minutes, get the crowd fired up, the comics fired up. Don’t be a ball hog. I don’t wanna be the manager who takes credit for his players. Samantha Hale’s not funny because I made her funny. Someone like Sam, she was meant to be a performer. I’m a manager, able to put my players in the right position and let them play their game. As a manager you’re trying to win. For your teammates and the fans.”
LEAVING THE SAFE ZONE
Many with conditions such as anxiety or clinical depression are often tempted to just stay in bed or whatever safe zone they’ve established.
“For a long time, my parent’s house was my ‘safe zone,’” Moran said. “My bubble. Now my safe zone is the stage, and helping people off-stage.”
Has he got any idea on where it’s all leading?
“Currently I’m looking to move out of state. I’m in a better place physically, emotionally than I was. Right now, it’s Wilmington, North Carolina. Where Dawson’s Creek was filmed. I’m a big Dawson’s Creek fan. And there’s nothing holding me back. Even friendships are growing apart. It feels like maybe it’s my time to do that.”
“The problem with the Safe Zone is: sometimes you get complacent. I know sportscasters who never left the town they were in. They had offers. Big markets. They didn’t take the opportunity.”
“With comedy, some people don’t leave what they’re comfortable with. People don’t like change,” Moran says. “I didn’t when I was in my 20’s. Love it now. The idea of something new? Fresh, exciting, scary all at once? I’m ready.”
CASEY MORAN hosts Comedy Night at Jax Pizza on the first Thursday of every month. For info, call: (805) 529-6220
Comedy Night at Jax
530 New Los Angeles Ave
Every first Thursday
CREDITS: Lance Tooks is a former illustrator at Marvel. Beverly Willenberg is an L.A. based artist, available at Artcritterarts.etsy.com
Samantha Hale’s first comedy album I’m Only Happy When It’s Raining Men dropped in February and quickly went to Number One on iTunes.
“I worked my ass off for that,” Hale said. “I spent more time promoting it than I did recording it.”
No stranger to the public eye, Hale is granddaughter to the late Alan ‘The Skipper’ Hale jr. of Gilligan’s Island fame. She sat down after a couple gigs in L.A. – and a socially-distanced horseback outing to discuss her history, her path as an up & coming comic, and drawing the perfect horse.
* * *
Earlier today I ran into a friend who’s a Vietnam vet and he said: ‘ask her about ‘The Lobster Bucket…’
The Lobster Barrel!
And a few other people shared ‘I remember Alan Hale’ stories. And I thought: OK, one, everyone apparently has a story about your grandfather, and two, this restaurant he had must’ve been later in his career.
So that said, what stage is ‘I’m Only Happy When It’s Raining Men’ for you?
I think it’s the beginning of a new stage. The first was ‘I wanna be a good comic.’ I wanted to actually know what to do with an audience. I started about nine, ten years ago. I took some time off because I was doing documentary stuff.
I never intended to be a comedian. I thought I needed to be an actor because that’s what my family did. I thought if I’m going to have any value as a human being, I needed to carry on the family name. I really put that pressure on myself at a young age. Doing acting, I’d get little things here and there, but I was frustrated because so much of that is out of your control. You can’t help what you look like, or if you remind the director of an ex-girlfriend, or you’re too tall or you’re too fat. And there were so many women my age doing the same thing.
So one day a friend asked ‘do you wanna come to The Women of Chelsea Lately at the Laugh Factory?’ And I was like ‘sure, sounds fun.’ And I sat there thinking ‘they’re so empowered. They have opinions. They’re not afraid to be who they are.’
We talked to Natasha (Leggero) after the show and she told me about ‘Pretty Funny Women.’ And I was like ‘OK, I’m curious.’ And whenever I’m curious or scared of things I tend to dive right in.
First show I did was at the Comedy Union here in Los Angeles. Dawn Wells came and sat in the front row. I’ll never forget that. She sat right in the front. Dawn is like my adoptive grandmother. I adore her. A mutual friend, Bill Funt, his dad was Alan Funt, somehow connected all the family members from Gilligan’s Island on Facebook and on email. He kinda introduced us all to one another. I’m still friends with Russell Johnson’s daughter, Kimberly. I know Bob (Denver)’s wife. You know, we all kinda chat.
So with comedy, you wanted to dive right in. Were you also that kind of a kid?
Oh yeah. If I wanted to draw something I’d work on it until my Dad literally took away my art book. ‘Hey hey hey you’re freaking out too much about this, it looks great.’ And I’d be ‘but this color isn’t right, or this outline, I didn’t draw the horse, it doesn’t look good enough.’ I’m such a perfectionist – which is weird because my parents didn’t really force anything on me, I forced all that stuff on myself. Maybe when you’re not pushed into anything you tend to want to do it more.
I had a piano phase. I kinda taught myself. I inherited a piano and I’d already played other instruments so I was familiar with scales and things like that. But my parents never made me take lessons.
And maybe that’s what happened with comedy. I’ve always admired strong women. When I was a kid I wanted to be Xena Warrior Princess. So when I see strong women that are comfortable in their own skin… that’s what I felt like I wasn’t at the time.
Was there a transition, like a door you passed thru one day and went ‘oh, that’s what that’s like!’
Someone told me when I started: ‘you’re not gonna be good at all until you’re five years in. And you’re not gonna really be good until you’re ten years in.’
Like there’s a hard and fast rule.
There isn’t. But I understood what he was saying. The two year mark is when you get that false sense of ‘I’m awesome.’ You start doing shows, you have a strong seven minute set, you do ten minute sets, and you start thinking ‘ahh, I got this.’ And then you get your butt kicked at five years in because you start doing bigger gigs, doing longer sets, maybe you start traveling. But if you have ten minutes in L.A., you have three or four minutes in the rest of the U.S. A lot of it is very regional.
So I really had to find out who I was. What my point of view was. And that’s the hardest part of doing stand-up, finding your point of view.
Comedians are often labeled with a ‘brand.’ Kinison was ‘loud,’ Laurie Kilmartin could be called ‘Mom-Com.’ Does your comedy have a ‘brand?’
The other day someone in the LGBTQ community called me the Chelsea Handler of West Hollywood. A huge compliment. I’m a straight woman who lives among the drag queens. It’s given me such insight, being the straight girl at all the drag shows and gay bars. Gay men love a confident woman.
The change came when I started to get a little more confident. When I first started I was very self-deprecating, like ‘oh hah-hah, look at this thing I’m not very good at.’ I would smile. I’d want people to like me.
Then I started writing jokes that were a little darker. A little edgier. And I didn’t really have the balls to do them. As I got older I think my sense of humor got darker.
Do you think that’s who you really are?
Yeah. Life has handed me a lot. What really brought me to another level was losing my Mom. I hate to say it but when you go through something as painful as that, what’s the worst that’s gonna happen at a show? What, you’re not gonna like my joke? I don’t give a shit, I just watched my Mom die of cancer.
And when you have that freedom, you can do more because the audience trusts you more. The more confident you are… I have a few jokes where I’ll just stare at people until they laugh. But when I first started I couldn’t do that. ‘Oh no, they’re gonna hate me!’
Do you crave the moment you go on stage?
Depends on the day. There’s a time when my personal life is overwhelming and I gotta go out there and.. it takes a lot of energy. Every time I walk up to the stage and I have the mike in my hand, I’m fine. I’m ready.
Have you been missing that moment during Covid?
This entire time has been an emotional ride for all of us. I think the simplest way to put it is good days/bad days. There are days I think ‘OK, this is a chance to develop other parts of my life. Work on my house. Plant my garden. Regenerate my mind and not be in go-go-go mode all the time. But then there are days like ‘everything I’ve done with my life I can’t do, so who am I?’ I know a lot of comics who’ve had an identity crisis because of this.
When I miss comedy and I feel as though I don’t have an identity, I focus on making memories. I wanna be on my deathbed, whenever that’ll be, thinking ‘remember that time…’ and I’ll say ‘oh yeah, I did do that!’ I mean, how many people can say they jumped into shark infested waters and swam on top of a whale shark?
Down there (Cancun) I managed to get on the wifi and still do a show. And I had a whole new ten minutes of stuff to talk about, because I was doing something that didn’t involve sitting in my house. So now that I have this new stuff to play with, I really wanna do a show. I have these new toys. That’s how I think about jokes sometimes, they’re like toys and when you get a new one, you just want to play with it all the time.
I know comics who just eat, breathe, sweat comedy. And that’s amazing. But I wanna have a life, too. Losing my Mom, everything changed. We’re so hard on ourselves.
‘Drawing the perfect horse.’
Is that where you are with ‘Raining Men?’
I’m so proud of this album. We went to record an album four years ago and I’m so glad it didn’t work out. I thought I was ready. But I was really stressing to get fifty minutes of material. And now I record an hour fifteen and cut it down, cut it down.
The first album, I was booked in Louisville, Kentucky. Should’ve been perfect. Except the manager booked me during the Thunder Over Louisville festival, the precursor to the Derby, so the whole town was out watching fireworks! No one at the club.
You learn from bombing. You don’t learn from doing well. It feels great and it’s fun, but you learn more when something doesn’t work. Was it the set-up? Was the punch not strong enough? Is it just too dark, am I the only one who thinks it’s funny? If I meet an artist – singer, songwriter, actor, if they think everything they do is great, chances are it’s probably not.
Does it weigh on you, or did it early on, that people were going to judge you based on the family name?
I’ve only seen it as a positive thing. After all there is no other comic out there that can do a joke about The Skipper being her grandpa. That’s mine.
Unless Dawn Wells’ daughter gets into the business.
She doesn’t have any kids! I’m fine. Bob, I think his son Patrick is in stunts. Special effects? Tina has a daughter who I believe is a writer.
So for you, the family ghost isn’t back there, nudging…
I don’t feel that pressure. Which is weird, because I put so much pressure on myself. Maybe when I was first starting I felt that. But now I’m really happy with who I am.
Speaking of all things ocean, where did your love of marine biology come from?
As a kid I was drawing orcas and whales and dolphins. I was part of the Free Willy fan club. I wanted to be a marine biologist. A dolphin trainer. But then I found out how much schooling was involved and how little money they made and I was like ‘I wanna be an actor!’
Dad was a big bodysurfer. He’d take me to Gladstones on PCH. That was the big special treat, we’re gonna go eat on the water. And my grandfather, along with playing The Skipper he did actually love being out on the water. We buried them both at sea. Neptune Society. It felt right.
One day, I’d gone to the beach, I was walking up and down by myself a while and I said ‘I just want to know that you’re alright.’ Ten minutes later I see something wash up on the edge of the water. If I see trash along the beach I’m going to pick it up. So I go over and it’s one of those little happy-face balls you put on your antenna. You want an answer, you get an answer! There are times when it’s not a coincidence. That was really specific.
I’m not a ‘sit at the beach and get a tan’ type of person. I wanna go out in it. ‘C’mon, let’s go see!’ I’m weird that way. We all have our different fears, our different level of adventure. I show people video of me swimming with a shark and they’re like ‘are you insane?’
But then there are people who’d never do stand-up.
The title of the new album came from a song –
Two songs! They (Garbage) were the first band I ever saw – KROQ’s almost-acoustic Christmas. Twelve bands on the line-up. They were one of the first out. Right after No Doubt. Shirley came out, she was this force to be reckoned with. My Mom bought me their album for Christmas. I listened to it on a little boom box.
Later, turns out one of my friend’s brothers is one of their managers. At first it was ‘oh I’ll get to get a picture and say hi.’ Then I struck up a friendship with Duke (Erikson, the guitarist) and we’re talking at a show and I said ‘I’d really like to go see another show on this tour’ and he’s like ‘let me know.’ So now I plan, I can do stand-up in whatever city when I know they’re going to be in town. I was in Scotland with a friend. They were playing the day I landed.
Shirley’s one of the most genuine people. I have nothing but good things to say about that woman. She actually cares about people, she remembers you, and what I really admire is her taking her platform and raising awareness for LGBTQ rights. She talks about politics. Women’s rights. She sees what’s going on in the world and really wants to help.
How does music play into your creative process?
I write about things I’m passionate about. I love Rob Zombie. I’ve got a joke about his beard, another about a dream I had where he goes down on me. In my dream I was like ‘no Rob, you’re married!’ And when I woke up I was like ‘what the hell, did I just cockblock my own wet dream?’ I think I’d been watching one of his movies before I went to bed.
I’m still very stuck in the 90’s. I have a lot of 90’s references and 80’s references cause I just generally like older movies. And I love the 90’s musically. I have fun telling these jokes then harassing the twenty year-olds in the audience. ‘Oh, you don’t get this.’ I have a Nirvana joke about Kurt Cobain and they had no idea who I was talking about.
Ever thought about being in a band?
I had a bass phase, I had a cello phase. I’m not musically inclined. I think keeping time is a nightmare. I’d love to be a singer but I have this insane fear of singing – I think I must’ve been a really bad singer in a past life and got stoned to death for a bad performance.
I won’t even do karaoke. Nope. Don’t wanna do karaoke and I don’t wanna jump out of a plane. Some people love that. But some people won’t go cage diving with great white sharks. I loved every second of it.
You recently traveled –
I got a lot of material going to Mexico. It was new and fun and exciting. A different culture. I learned a lot. If you’re a comic and all you do is go to comedy shows, what are you going to write about? People want to hear about your personal adventures and stories and weird memories. Things people say to you. Especially when you’re a woman. Traveling alone. During a pandemic.
I caught my first in-person laugh from our tour guide and I went ‘oh, this is what it’s like to make strangers laugh. Still got it!’ And all I had to do was go balls deep into the jungle.
I went camping in Tahoe with a wonderful group. I happened to be the only straight one but whatever, I’m used to it. It’s fun. They did make fun of me because I tried to bring some healthy snacks. They’re like ‘these chips are made of kale, what are you doing!’ I brought all these cans. I mean, I’m not a camper, that’s what you’re supposed to eat, right? Nope! They brought a full kitchen. We had steak. We had chicken. They do not play around. I was very impressed. We had margaritas. One of my friends brought this powder, you throw it on the fire and it makes a rainbow. The best part was to just break that Groundhog Day effect.
Back when you were getting started, did you have any kind of secret to improving? Did you film yourself, record yourself?
I used to record everything all the time. Now I’ve become really disciplined. If I’m trying new material, if something works, I’ll write it down the second I get offstage.
Comedy is a dialogue. You’re not up there giving a speech. You’re not talking at people, you’re talking to them and with them. The whole excitement for me, especially now that I’ve been doing it a little bit and I’m comfortable, the most fun is doing crowd work. Telling jokes then having to deal with it if it doesn’t land, having to play with people, hearing their stories. A lot of my material I write on stage.
There are times when you’re hyper-connected and it’s beautiful and they’re so in that moment and you’re on fire. And then there are times when you do your opener – you want to open strong/close strong – and your opener doesn’t hit and you’re like… well, they don’t like that so let’s try this. Sometimes you keep it internal, but you’re always listening to the room.
Are you a big re-writer?
I’ve got notes of jokes going back years. Sometimes they come to you, and sometimes you’ve got this amazing set-up and you want it to work so bad… but you just can’t find the punch for it. Years later, you write something that finishes it. The idea is to get up there and work your ass off to make it look like you just thought of it.
A lot of comedy is in-the-moment riffing. Some comics, it’ll seem like they’re just talking to you, they just thought of this and you’re like ‘wow, it’s like we’re just sitting in his living room and he’s just shooting the shit with us.’ Then you see the ten o’clock show and he does the same thing and makes it look like he just thought of it.
Are you thinking funny all the time?
I’m not one of those comics that doesn’t turn off. When I’m not working I’ll naturally say things that are funny but I’m not trying. If I go out to a show I’m happy to just hang out. I don’t need to be the center of attention.
I’ll be writing jokes that I think are just ‘meh’ and I’ll think ‘whatever, I wrote it, might as well try it’ and it kills. And I’m like ‘really?’ Then I’ll write something that I think is so smart, so funny, and the audience doesn’t get it. And you’re frustrated. Sometimes it’s the wrong crowd. Sometimes what you think is funny they might not understand. It’s all about gauging the temperature of the room.
When you’re a new comic and you only have ten minutes you can’t change your set right in the middle because they don’t like it. But now, I have enough material that I can say ‘OK they’re not going for this, I better..’
At what point did it start to appeal to host and produce?
A lot of comics, when they’re new, they’ll do open mikes. And that kind of gets you in. But hosting is a different skill.
You’re getting up there, the audience is ice cold, you don’t know what the room is like yet. People are still being seated. They’re ordering drinks. A lot of times they don’t even know you’re a comic. They’re not drunk yet, so they’re not loose.
Talk about the Monday night thing with Micky’s in WeHo.
I have to say, as I started working with drag queens, their sense of humor – we just rip the hell out of each other. Constantly. It’s our way of showing affection. I was freed with how much fun they’d have with that kind of humor so I started writing that way. Edgier. I started working in more gay bars. The crowds weren’t expecting a straight cis woman. So I had to get their attention. You had to be fearless. And once you get their respect, they’re the best audience ever.
A friend of mine, one of the queens from ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ worked (at Micky’s) and one of the managers said ‘I think we wanna bring in a show for happy hour.’ And my friend said ‘hey, you’ve got a comic right here.’ And they were kinda like ‘ehh, I don’t know.’ But I wrote up a proposal, really convinced them, and yeah – every Monday for four years. Right place, right time.
Then word just got out. I hosted. A lot of comics don’t like hosting. It’s that much more work.
Does hosting limit your time to write new material?
Hosting at Micky’s, a lot of the same people are there every week. It forced me to come up with new stuff to talk about. But because it was my show, the pressure was kinda off. If I do new jokes and it doesn’t land, who am I gonna fire? Me? I’m not gonna fire me.
Got a favorite heckler story?
The first time I tried to record an album was in Kentucky. And there was this party of twenty in the back. And they just hated everything I did. I did a birth control joke. Dead silence. And from the back of the room this woman says: ‘girl, you trippin!’ She was so loud, and I was so shocked by it I think I said ‘yes ma’am you’re right, I am in fact trippin!’ And it clicked in my head ‘OK, well, they already hate me, so I might as well do whatever I want now.’ Another reason I’m glad that album didn’t work out.
Then I did a joke about Kim Kardashian having sex with a black guy and they loved me. Oftentimes, I think an audience senses my attitude’s changed. I have nothing left to lose. I’m no longer trying to impress you, so why not. And suddenly they trust me.
You do a lot of jokes about exes. Ever had an ex show up at a show?
I had a guy I was dating a while, he approached me after my set. One day we were out having drinks and he asked me about this joke about my ex-boyfriend’s penis. And he said ‘is that joke true?’ And I’m like ‘yeah’ and he said ‘you’re actually talking about a real guy’s dick?’ And I’m like ‘yeah…’ And he got really upset! Like ‘well I’m never gonna show you my dick.’ And I’m like ‘well first off I never asked and second, what’s wrong with it?’ All of my jokes are based on truth. Sometimes they’re exaggerated, but that’s the nature of comedy.
The funny thing is I had a video clip of that joke posted online, and some of my friends who are still friends with my ex reposted it. Of course it got back to him. And he messaged me: ‘hey, Teatherball.’ Which is the punch line. He thought it was funny.
Is clean comedy a bigger challenge?
Yes. And there are different levels of clean. There’s PG-13 clean, there’s corporate clean, there’s squeaky clean. Some places say ‘you can’t use any swear words, no offensive content, no sex.’ Jokes that have no shocking content are harder to write.
There’s a joke structure we teach (at Slay). Some people will fight you on it, but they come around in the end. Figuring out who you are as a comic takes a lot of time. My point of view when I started is very different than where I am now. But I got more in tune with myself. I know what I like as a comic, what makes me laugh.
When you’re onstage, do you ever find yourself having an inner-dialogue?
There are times you’ll go on autopilot, and halfway thru you’ll say ‘I don’t wanna do this.’ I’ve literally said ‘ah, I don’t wanna do that joke.’ The audience, they’re really smart, they can tell when you’re in it and you’re not. If you hesitate – they don’t trust you and they’re not gonna laugh.
If you go in there with a new joke and it doesn’t work and then you get uncomfortable and you feel terrible and you beg for their approval? It’s not gonna work. But if you’re OK with whatever the outcome is, it’s still gonna be fun.
I love seeing people bomb who don’t care and are able to recover. That’s the most genuine you’re going to see a person.
One of the best examples of that was Johnny Carson. He did this five minute monologue, not a single joke was hitting and he started commenting on how unfunny it all was and it was the funniest thing you’ll ever see. He was so real in that moment. He knew what was going on and he didn’t try to fake it.
Sometimes you’ll see people when their joke doesn’t work they’ll talk louder or faster. It’s just not going to work. The audience will cramp up. They’ll tune out.
We tell the new girls that come in to take the class, if something doesn’t work – just say it. If you forget your joke say ‘I forgot my joke!’ and you’ll get a laugh. You’ll get a laugh if you tell the truth.
I’m doing comedy more for me now. I’m more open to failure. Nothing is scarier than watching your mom die of cancer. Nothing. And I’m grateful to my mom for giving me that gift.
One of my writing partners, Anna Valenzuela, lost both her parents before I lost both my parents. And she told me ‘your humor’s gonna get really dark really fast and people aren’t always going to know what to do with it. And that’s OK. Speak your truth.’
And the album captures that.
I’ve got to this place where I’ve just let go. I feel more freedom with it now. I’m not a larger-than-life character. I’m a bit more…
Yeah! That would be a big compliment.
Samantha Hale’s new album ‘I’m Only Happy When It’s Raining Men‘ is available oniTunes, Spotify andApple Music.
MATT McGEE lives and writes in the Los Angeles area
No one does adversity like Local H. It’s a long story and we could go into it but really, we think that will all be better covered some day in Scott Lucas’ autobiography.
The band’s audience and anyone just plain Jones’ing for live music could indulge in a live-streamed performance Friday night, broadcast from The Cold Space in Chicago via YouTube and Facebook. Where the masses would usually assemble to cheer, mosh and nurse another night of tinnitus, Lucas and drummer Ryan Harding invited everyone to tune in and witness how rock & roll will carry on.
Rather than cobble together a set list and promote their ninth album ‘Lifers,’ the duo threw audiences a welcome curveball: they would perform their 2004 album ‘Whatever Happened to PJ Soles?’ from start to finish.
The album dropped at a precarious time; politics and post-9/11 aside, Napster-style file-sharing sites were still robbing the pockets of working musicians – the rich dead ones as well. It was easy to question the wisdom of releasing a long form album that was likely just going to be peer-shared away.
But Lucas and then-drummer Brian St. Clair wrote, recorded and released what turned out to be a minor masterwork in the form of ‘Soles.’ Where their previous two albums ‘Here Comes the Zoo’ and ‘No Fun’ were full of stand-alone rock songs, ‘Soles’ reached for something higher; the album’s sonic riffs and memorable lines felt thematically cohesive throughout. The connection bordered at times on operatic, and so here they are, 16 years later with a body of work that still lent itself well to being performed from beginning to end.
Fast forward to the Spring of 2020 and the band’s tour with Soul Asylum is suddenly halted. No longer able to work from the stage for their audience and sign at the merch table, Lucas and Harding found themselves grounded by circumstance.
Yet Lucas and company have historically rebounded from adversity the way Jake Lamotta never hit the mat. When the fists start flying Local H has been least likely to embrace the luxury of slowing down.
The duo delivered a faithful recital of ‘PJ Soles’ then turned to the comment feed of the broadcast, pen and paper in hand, soliciting encore suggestions from the audience. The show ran nearly three hours.
The move meant lesser-heard favorites like ‘Gig Bag Road’ and Mudhoney’s suddenly appropriate ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ became part of the show. Lucas, known to take the world up on a chance at a good tongue-in-cheek moment (see their covers of Brittany Spears’ ‘Toxic’ and Lorde’s ‘Team’), reappeared in black afro wig and was soon unapologetically kicking into a request for ‘Free Bird.’
‘Going down in flames but it feels OK,’ Lucas sang on ‘That’s What They All Say.’ Maybe harsh Chicago winters tempered the band’s endurance, but rather than burn out Local H lit up what could’ve been another dark Friday night.
Love, like theatre, is something that enriches our human experience when we take a little risk and seek it out.
But who wants to take a risk these days?
So it may have seemed ironic for audience members who were recently able to come see ‘Love (In Theory),’ a collection of ten minute short plays offered by CLU’s Starving Artist’s Coalition in the university’s Blackbox Theatre. Patrons were led to their seats by an usher and seated a little further than usual from their fellow theatre-goers, creating a curious but perhaps currently necessary distance.
In the throes of a virus scare racing through America, the Saturday evening performance of ‘Love (In Theory)’ was technically a sell out, due in part to the extra spacing needed to achieve our latest contribution to the American vernacular: ‘social distancing.’
A little social distancing, March 14, 2020
Other local theatres might take notice. Robert Kennedy said ‘the youth of our nation are the clearest mirror of our performance.’ And so, while one established theatre after another shutters for weeks at a time and decisions are made to cancel whole runs, CLU’s theatre staff have answered the current crisis with a bit of careful placement regarding their guests.
At Saturday’s performance, a duo that may have been mother and son sat elbow to elbow. A few couples shared space, but anyone attending solo found themselves sitting beside an empty chair, marked off as unavailable by a thin strip of purple tape stretched over its temporarily closed mouth.
We may not be able to bridge a few gaps physically at the moment, but it’s always fun to watch actors – and the characters they embody – try and reach over the abyss in our place as we cheer and laugh from our well-spaced sidelines.
The first piece on the evening’s slate, ‘Smitten,’ features Bianca Akbiyikas as Barb. She’s decided to break up with her current boyfriend, who just happens to be God. Not just some minor-league god but THE God. And to help her crack a bottle of wine and pack up her things she’s called in her girlfriend Amy, energetically played by Red Patterson. Despite ominous warnings from above that Barb might be making the wrong decision, the audience laughed collectively as she and Amy debate the woes of dating a deity. And, maybe as a release from so much virus-fueled news, the laughter came particularly loud when Patterson dove under a table and yelled ‘We’re gonna get smited!’
The second piece on the bill, ‘Heart of Hearing’ is equal parts tense and tender, and begins as a simple dialogue between a former boyfriend-girlfriend. The conversation between Georgia Caines’ Angie and Clayton Currie’s Josh starts out with an inherent distance via cell phone; details of their break-up and what might have been slowly unfurl. When the fourth wall between the actors is penetrated, Josh and Angie begin a face-to-face, heart-to-heart talk that shows maybe love isn’t totally lost between these two. To this point, ‘Heart of Hearing’ may be the centerpiece of the department’s offerings; as Caines & Currie get slowly closer, yearning to reach each other again, they find instead a fear, a virus they aren’t willing to be exposed to.
The slate’s third piece, ‘I Love You Too’ is an emotional retelling of a young man’s wanting to reconnect with his mother (Karie Wu), after an incident sends him into the foster-care system and relegates mother and son to the level of letter-writing. Told at two stages of the narrator’s life (by Brandon Goodman and Xavier Reynoso), this is a piece about a different kind of love and longing, of feeling stymied at every turn by matters, many of which are often out of our control.
Audiences are in for a delightful surprise as the slate nears the halfway mark. ‘Meet-Cute’ is a piece of classic interpretive dance, performed wordlessly to a simple acoustic melody written by Francis Cabrel and performed in French by Andrea Lindsay. The setting is a park and dancers El Caris Camarillo and Moriah Sittner give a silent, refined performance that creates a perfect interlude to the show’s trajectory.
Then, quiet time is over. The familiar surf twang of Dick Dale’s ‘Miserlu’ (familiar as the theme to Pulp Fiction) introduces ‘Tarrantino Variation,’ a quickly-delivered, hilarious take on the talky characters of director Quintin Tarrantino’s early 90’s films. These three intense yet heavily-armed gangsters (Izzy Bordagaray, Rylee Smith and Devin Romines) aim their guns at each other but can’t decide who to shoot, when to shoot, or if they’re actually going to shoot at all. They ultimately decide to adjourn to a local fast food restaurant, but can they even do that without it becoming another windy argument?
Similarly, ‘Murder’ plays with the boundaries of reality – and does so in such a simple way that relies on the precise comedic timing of Grace Phenicie and Victoria Karr (both seen in CLU’s recent production of ‘The Wolves’). With a little help from their lighting tech to create an alternate universe, and some very good stage combat instruction, audiences howled as Bridget and Lonnie went at each other’s throats, only to slip right back into their surface personalities as if nothing had happened at all. There’s something easily recognized in their characters: yes, we want to love and be happy for our friend’s success, but secretly inside we might just want to stab them with a butter knife in a sidewalk cafe.
One of the slate’s most touching and simply staged pieces is ‘Winter Games.’ Here, two coworkers share a short break in an alleyway. Their talk starts out strained, but Jamie (Waqar Ahmed) encourages Mary (Katarina Lopez) to talk about her affection for figure skating in the Winter Olympics. As Lopez tells the story of an Estonian skater who’s carrying all the pressure of the world on her shoulders, dancer Amy Craig glides onstage and acts out the skater’s routine to Mary’s narration. Lopez and Craig are well-timed, simply and effectively lit and costumed, so that the forlorn tone in Mary’s voice creates a spell that’s impossible not to sympathize. Mary berates Jamie, her friend since 10th grade for being OK with ‘serving scones to your high school girlfriend and her husband.’ Mary wants to ‘peel her skin off and become someone else,’ to break out of the prison her life has become. When Jamie reveals a humanitarian gesture, Lopez’s Mary sees that maybe there actually is something worthwhile where she lives, and that unlike her figure-skating counterpart, maybe she hasn’t ‘missed it’ after all.
Though Scott and Lily (Will Pena and Jules Wiess) are the main characters of ‘Cake,’ their short piece really goes to the dogs. Samsara, played by Beverly Skinner is a greyhound mix, and Paco is a loving and convincing Chihuahua played by Alejandro Guzman. Samsara and Paco narrate the action as filtered through their K-9 eyes, sprinkled with their own dog-thoughts on how things are going to work out. Paco is certain he can smell love, and he’s sure that Scott still loves Lily. While Guzman skitters around the stage looking to be pet and scratched, Skinner is his realistic counterbalance, and looks hilarious as she simply eats from a bowl, chews her kibble and stares up at the ceiling. Paco believes that his pee (which he often leaves on the family’s Oriental rug) smells like love, and that the smell of love doesn’t go away. The only time Paco is truly frightened is when ‘the cake story’ is about to be told, the one moment that Lily can cite as the time she truly hated Scott. Like all dogs these two are perceptive, and by the end of the piece we’re certain of one thing: that their belief in love won’t fade, no matter what happens to their humans.
And in the category of ‘going out with a bang,’ Mark Harvey Levine’s ‘Surprise’ shows us Peter (the irresistibly hilarious Adam Souza) and Whitney (Grace Aguirre, who’s anger practically steams out of her ears). Aguirre’s Whitney is trying to break up with Peter, but there’s one problem: he’s psychic. Not only does he know what’s coming she can’t even finish her sentences. ‘You’ve taught me the true meaning of hate,’ Aguirre steams, and we’re concerned that she’s about to throttle Peter. He seems unworried, even prepared, because like everything else he knows what’s coming and when it’ll arrive. When their charming waitress (Maya De La Torre) asks if they need anything else Peter simply says ‘no, just bring the towel,’ and audiences might wonder ‘didn’t he mean the check?’ But soon, in a moment of perfect stage choreography, Whitney throws a glass of water in Peter’s face just as the towel is delivered, which he promptly uses and tosses back to the waitress in stride. His waitress, it turns out, knows a thing or two herself – and just might have a little surprise of her own up her sleeve.
Just before the lights went down on the evening’s performances, two young women on opposite sides of the auditorium sang along to Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ as it played over the speakers. The two gestured and lip-synced at each other, despite the social distance that existed for the moment. A perfect metaphor for the time, yet another chapter in our country’s history when we will once again look to the arts to lead us, keep us feeling human, and maybe help us feel love across a divide when it may seem impossible to overcome.
When Cameron Crowe released the movie ‘Singles’ in 1992, Gen X’ers had reason to rejoice: finally, someone had written characters who spoke the way they did, who cursed and listened to the bands that the rest of the world were finally starting to embrace. Crowe, who’d also written Fast Times at Ridgemont High was lauded as having captured a contemporary pattern of speech otherwise ignored by movie studios.
California Lutheran University’s latest offering ‘The Wolves’ delivers a similar shift in language with over-lapping, contemporary intensity. Director Hailey Schaffner has refined a sharp young cast to deliver Sarah DeLappe’s 2017 Pulitzer-nominated dialogue with such fluidity that audiences might swear the team is just talking among themselves during pre-game warm-ups. The Wolves are irresistible because they sound so familiar.
Schaffner’s cast captures the cadence and rhythm of DeLappe’s language with a back-and-forth style similar to the way The Wolves kick soccer balls thru most of the show. This is partly the excellence of DeLappe’s script, and evidence of a cast who have perfectly gelled. The young women in blue jerseys might be right up in each other’s faces, but it is clear these archetypes of nearly every traveling sports team love each other.
When a new girl, simply known as #46 (Permille Klemetsen) is introduced, her country of origin remains a mystery, a fact that isn’t helped when #13 (Rylee Smith) claims that #46 ‘lives in a yogurt’ (a yurt). #46’s mother is a travel writer, so blending into teams has been a way of making friends. Klemetsen’s take on #46 is charming, both in her awkward moments and in showing how her arrival alters the team’s dynamic. Through persistence, a catchy little song and scoring a lot of goals, #46 becomes accepted by The Wolves.
DeLappe’s script is easily staged, and scenic designer Will Pena kept it simple. A stage covered in Astroturf, add a bench and a scoreboard and you’ve got most of a show. Similarly, costume designer Grace Phenicle kept ‘The Wolves’ simple, as the girls spend most of the show in their blue soccer outfits. The only glitch in Schaffner’s otherwise sterling production may be a lack of scene-change sound, cuing clear transitions to both audiences and stagehands, a minor change easily repaired.
When tragedy strikes The Wolves, Mary Kalfayan’s portrayal of a mother’s grief at show’s end is tremendous. Here Schaffner and DeLappe save their best for last, the play’s final moment a powerful example of where no words are needed, even among a pack of Wolves where words have always meant everything.
Everyone has a different idea of a good time. For some it’s when a 100-degree day moves aside for a perfect balmy evening, and CLU’s Shakespeare Festival presents “Othello” in Kingsmen Park. As the birds head off to their evening nests and frogs sound from a nearby stream, a beautiful production unfolds – making it easy to see why this might be some people’s idea a good time.
And then, there’s Iago.
Iago has served as the original blueprint for every super-villain for 400 years running, who hates all which can be good in the human race and, with cunning deftness, intends to destroy it at every turn.
We’re introduced to Jason McBeth’s Iago as he approaches a senator’s home and shouts out an alarm that the senator’s daughter (Rachel Seiferth) and a moor are in the process of “making the beast with two backs,” still one of the greatest semi-bawdy descriptions of sex ever penned. It doesn’t take long for the senator (Jason D. Rennie) to get suckered into hating this noble Moor named Othello, just as Iago wants.
“Trust not your daughters words,” the senator bellows, “but what you see them act.” And yet if Iago has his way, he will convince the senator and all those around that his own actions are noble, in their interest, and that no one else is to be trusted. McBeth’s version of Iago is made unattractive in his gait and his hatred, all while clad in a semi-contemporary black leather jacket. This Iago is a love-destroying earworm with a dash of Sha-Na-Na.
“Put but money in thy purse,” Iago insists, a Shakespearean Gordon Gecko. He cons Cassio (Connor Sullivan), a handsome young man of virtue to get drunk with a raucous gang and lures him into a fight, then retrieves Othello just in time to see Cassio brawling.
Cassio mourns the loss his reputation. Iago scoffs at this “false imposition” and encourages him to make amends by reaching out to Othello’s wife. Iago has created an opportunity, of course, to bring Othello in at just the right moment to see Casio running away from a clandestine meeting with his wife. This, and a well-placed handkerchief gives Othello the smidge of proof that something’s awry.
Matt Orduna plays our title character with all the power and goodness, human failings and eventual murderous capacity of the best Othello’s. When poisoned by Iago’s suspicions, Orduna physically reacts. “Farewell, the tranquil mind” he mourns, eventually strangling his Desdemona in her bedroom. Made to realize his error by Iago’s wife Emilia (Angela Gulner, who leaves us wondering if we can trust her or not), Othello falls upon his sword. This leaves in a final pool of designer Leigh Allen’s light the lone smirking figure of Iago, our incarnate of evil, to carry on his work. McBeth’s characterization was enough to inspire a Sunday evening crowd to audibly boo & hiss, leaving many wanting his blood.
The joy of such a rich and timeless story in Kingsmen Park is enhanced by the fact that its presentation is done without the aid or distraction of a single glowing screen. Christopher Hoag’s subtle sound cues help the action, and Andrea Heilman’s set is simple, solid, functional and colorful; a balanced kaleidoscope of muted colors fill the background without detracting from the action.
The 22nd Annual Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival has given us yet another rare treat: an analog presentation of a timeless tale in a beautiful natural setting – a classic experience for family and friends alike that is worth waiting for. After all, “how poor are they who had not patience.”
Ask comedian Matt Neal what motivates him to put together a local comedy show and he’ll tell you.
“I live in Newbury Park. This way I don’t have to drive so far.” Granted, most big comedy venues are rooted in the Los Angeles area, but there’s definitely a market for Neal’s profession out here. “So many people have come up to me afterward and said ‘that was my first time at a comedy show! We had so much fun!’”
Neal keeps his approach simple: he checks in with local venue owners and sees what night is their slowest. “Is there a night they don’t pay much attention to? We show them how we bring a value. My co-producer, Sam Goldstein, is excellent. It doesn’t break (the venue’s) budget, and we make sure our comics are paid.” Comics get something else valuable when entertaining local audiences: the coveted value of stage time.
“Most of the time we can get comics ten minutes on stage. It gives them a chance to hone new material. Particularly shows in bars. If a comic can get a rolling laugh in a bar, that could be an applause break in a real comedy club.”
Neal brings a powerhouse line-up Thursday, June 21 to the Five Threads Brewing Company in Westlake Village, near the Four Seasons Hotel. The venue serves a variety of craft beers and a food truck will be on hand. Reservations aren’t required and there is no cover charge.
Joining Neal will be headliner Laurie Kilmartin, an Emmy-nominated writer for Conan O’Brien and author of the new memoir ‘Dead People Suck.’ Billed as ‘a guide for survivors of the newly departed,’ the book is a sarcastic masterpiece about Kilmartin’s experience of losing her father.
“Laughing together in a room full of people can be a tribal experience,” Neal says of their profession. People come up to him after shows and share their similar life experiences. “We laugh at the ridiculousness of the human experience. Everyone has crazy family issues. If we can have fun with a message, then we know we’ve done our job.”
Photo: Craig Bennett, celebatography.com
Neal, who originally hails from Philadelphia, learned some of the local ropes playing venues as a drummer after moving to the Conejo Valley in 2007. He started doing stand-up in 2011 “after studying for a year, watching a lot of shows at the Ice House” and being encouraged by comedian Joe Rogan. “If you’re not dead yet,” Rogan instructed, “go do it.”
Also joining the bill on Thursday night will be Deirdre Devlin, Jacob Givens, Jerry Gosin and Jon Schabl. Show begins at 8pm. Matt Neal will also appear at Comedy Ahoy! in Marina del Rey on July 27th.