In Defense of the Unknown Actor

Anonymity is a powerful strength. You often see it used to terrible effect by trolls on social media and comment boards. But it can be used for good by famous writers who take on a pseudonym in order to write outside their “accepted” genre. It’s also the reason that masks are so intriguing. We don’t know who it is behind the facade.

Another way this can be used, but often isn’t, is in casting. Producers, directors, and writers are often celebrity-obsessed. Celebrity being in many ways the antithesis of anonymity. Celebrities, of course, allows any project to more easily attract funding. But it can sometimes get in the way of allowing the audience to really see and believe the character.

I had this issue when I saw the movie La La Land. Continue reading In Defense of the Unknown Actor

This is Theatre

I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to see a lot of new plays and musicals.  However, it’s an unfortunately rare experience, given that I see so much, that something really blows me away – particularly, I’m sorry to say, in Los Angeles.  And it’s an even rarer experience to have it happen twice in one month.

Last night I saw Cornerstone Theater Company’s production of Cafe Vida, created in partnership with Homeboy Industries and Homegirl Cafe and presented by the Latino Theater Company.  Cornerstone’s unique brand of theatre incorporates individuals from the community to help tell their own stories.  Sometimes this can make for messy theatre, but often it makes for extremely exciting theatre, especially when those stories are deftly structured by an accomplished playwright, as Cafe Vida was by Lisa Loomer.

Directed by Michael John Garces, it tells the story of two Latinas from two enemy barrios in Los Angeles, who are forced to interact after being released from prison and joining Cafe Vida – a community outreach program (like Homeboy Industries and Homegirl Cafe) that provides hope, training, and support to fomerly gang-involved and recently incarcerated men and women, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community through restaurant services and culinary arts.

Most of the actors are from Homeboy Industries and provide raw, unpolished, but stunningly frank performances of, in some cases, their own life stories.  And these are not easy life stories to tell.  But this type of work is in essence what all theatre aspires to – the spilling forth of personal truths, truths that are almost larger-than-life in their drama and danger, truths worthy of the stage.

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 A couple weeks ago I also had the pleasure of seeing Danai Gurira’s The Convert at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, a co-production with the Goodman Theatre and the McCarter Theatre.

The Convert takes places during the British occupation of Zimbabwe (1895), and tells the story of a young African woman, who comes to live with a Christian African  missionary in order to survive an undesired fate in her tribe community, pitting ancient African traditions against Western culture and Christianity.

Directed by Emily Mann, it’s a riveting three act play, that also highlights theatre at its best – no flashy sets (though beautiful!), no flashy costumes, no flashy word play and wit – but honest, engaging characters thrust into dynamic conflict with each other and the worlds around them.

What is so exciting about each of these plays, is that they each make incredible points without attempting to preach or sucker punch.  They are gritty, they are daring, and they are unapologetic.  It is not pretty, or tv-worthy.  It is not white and middle class.  It is humanity caught in the struggle of life.  This is theatre.  This is theatre.

(Photo credit: Lynette Alfaro, by John Luker; the cast of The Convert, by T. Charles Erickson)

MILWAUKEE’S STILL BUZZING

After The Tavern Keeper’s Daughter already made a splash when its public reading filled the Cabot Theatre and brought together two companies (Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and Skylight Music Theatre), this article recently came out in “M Magazine” – Milwaukee’s Lifestyle Magazine.

 

 

 

Writer Joan Kazan and I talk about my Milwaukee roots, my aspirations for the future, and how booking jobs can really mess up a well-planned schedule. 

(Click on the article below to be able to enlarge it.)