El Portal The Forum Theatre

By Jean Strauber, Entertainment Editor

Theatre! Theatre! Theatre!

I had the good fortune to see three very diverse plays this past week: “Sentimental Journey” at the El Portal’s Main Stage, “Vigil” at the Mark Taper, and “King of the Desert” at the El Portal’s small venue, The Forum.

Sentimental Journey:

El Portal The Forum Theatre
El Portal The Forum Theatre

“Sentimental Journey: The Story of Doris Day” is a musical drama based on the life of Doris Day, the Oscar nominated actress and singer. For those of us old enough to remember the magazines devoted to Hollywood’s stars like Modern Screen or Photoplay, we would see Miss Day frequently pictured behind a bar making ice-cream sodas and gazing adoringly at her then husband Martin Melcher. Her image on the screen was Miss Squeaky Clean. Remember “Romance on the High Seas” or Pillow Talk”? It wasn’t until much later that we heard about the real Doris Day revealed in several unauthorized biographies and learned of her loves, hates, joys, sadness, laughter and tears.

The play does bring out Day’s yearning for a “good” marriage, without her having much success. Sally Hughes, a well-known British actress, stars as the noted actress/singer with Conor Sheridan, Nick Waring, Elizabeth Elvin, and Tom Selwood portraying various important characters who were part of Miss Day’s life. A very adorable “actress” that was greeted with much applause and “oohing” was Ms. Lily O’Donnell, an adorable maltese/shitzu who symbolized Ms. Day’s work with loving and saving of animals through her Doris Day Foundation.

Playwright Adam Rolstan has cleverly woven 20 of Doris Day’s songs into this plot, even though their placement might not have been historically accurate. An example of that would be when Elvin as Day’s mother Alma, sings “Que Sera Sera” to her as a meaning of explaining life’s disappointments after Day had been severely injured in an auto accident as a teenager. Other than that, the staging of the musical numbers was welldone.

One that quickly comes to mind was Ms. Hughes singing and dancing “The Stagecoach Is Coming,” while dressed in a similar western costume Ms. Day wore in the movie “Calamity Jane”, along with the supporting cast. On stage, the four musicians backed the cast without overpowering them: Jo Steward, musical director and arranger, was seated at the piano, Glen Ochenkoski on drums/percussion; Michael Benedict, woodwinds; and Ernie Nunez, double bass. Jane Kidd’s costumes were strongly reminiscent of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s looks in which Ms. Day reached her stardom. On opening night (and I hope that continues), the audience appeared to spontaneously join the cast in the reprise of “Que Sera Sera” sung by the cast while they were taking their bows. “Sentimental Journey” can now be seen at the North Hollywood’s historic El Portal Theatre until Sunday, November 20, 2011. Ticket prices: Center $50; Sides $40. I strongly recommend you order your tickets as several performances have already sold out.

Vigil:

A middle-aged man (Kemp) enters a woman’s (Grace’s) apartment, having received a letter from her inviting him to visit as she was soon to die. He has come because he wants her to leave everything to him. Grace, a white-haired sickly woman, appears to be unable or unwilling to talk. It’s as if she doesn’t have any idea as to who Kemp is. As time goes on and Grace does not pass away, Kemp becomes more and more desperate to end Grace’s life. His attempts include building a suicide machine and asking her whether she prefers to die by electric shock or by a “massive blow to the head.”

“Whatever works for you,” Kemp intones, in a good example of the dark comedy displayed throughout the play. Marco Barricelli and Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis are both outstanding in their roles. Ms. Dukakis has very, very few lines. In fact I think the only thing she says at the end of the first act is is “Merry Christmas” just before the curtain drops. Yet, in the actions of her character (putting a too short sweater on a dressmaker’s dummy, gorging on candy, sneaking a smoke) or just reacting to what Kemp is saying is magnificent. The set is Grace’s bedroom. It’s cluttered, has tape over most of the windows; only a couple will open.

Barrocelli as Kemp is magnificent as the person with an adult body but with a teenager’s emotions. Yet, as the play progresses you find the development of a loving relationship between the two. During the second act, Panych managed to surprise me with a revelation (which I refuse to reveal here) that does explain much about Grace’s behavior towards Kemp. There is much gallows humor in this play. For example, in one scene Kemp says to Grace, “Let’s not talk about anything depressing. Do you want to be cremated?” This humor is what helps keeps Kemp from being a monster. “Vigil” was written and directed by Morris Panych. It will be performed at the Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum until December 18, 2011. Tickets range from $20-$65. For information call (213) 628-2772 or go to www. CenterTheatreGroup.org.

King of the Desert:

At the El Portal Theatre’s Forum Theatre you’ll find an excellent play about a Mexican-American boy’s journey of self-discovery. “King of the Desert” stars Rene Rivera, who gives us a riveting performance as the young boy and the man who is seeking to discover who he is. Playwright Stacey Martino states, “The play takes us on a Mexican American journey that explores a universal struggle to become our most authentic selves.” We meet the main character as a young boy in school reading Shakespeare and quoting Hamlet’s soliloquy, “To be or not to be…”

We follow him from a dusty Texas town to New York, where he becomes a star of stage and screen, all the time searching for his identity, “Yo Soy?” We encounter, with him, the prejudices found in a small town or the big city as he strives to achieve his dream, his goal. We share with him the joy of finding love and the pain of losing it. We share with him wonderment when he expresses, “I am a man, a husband, a father, a Mexican- American.” He answers the question asked by the tragic Dane when he states (or is he asking) “To Be or Not to be.” Our character’s response, “Yo Soy (I am).”

I heartily recommend this play because, though this character is a Mexican-American, I found this story is relevant for others of us who have encountered similar prejudices in their quest for acceptance in society and answering the question of who they really are. As the character states in the play, “When we free ourselves we free our ancestors.” “King of the Desert” was written by Stacey Martino and directed by awardwinning director, Sal Romeo.

It is being co-produced by CoActive Content, Stacey Martino, Founder/Artistic Director, and American Latino Theatre Company, David Llauger-Meiselman, Artistic Director. A portion of the proceeds from performances throughout the run of the show will benefit the National Latino Children’s Institute, The Oscar de la Hoya Foundation and the Youth Policy Institute. Tickets are $20 each for General Admission, Tickets for Students, Seniors, Veterans and Guild Members are $15 each. Tickets for Groups of eight or more are $10 each. Performance schedule: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm. A Talk Back Question and Answer Session with members of the play’s cast and crew will be held at the conclusion of each Sunday matinee performance. For reservations and further information please call the Box Office at (866) 811- 4111 or buy online at www. elportaltheatre.com. For further information about the co-production, please visit www.thekingofthedesert.com.

CENTER STAGE OPERA

On Sunday, November 20th, Center Stage Opera will be offering an evening of delectable food and glorious song at Angelo’s Ristorante Italiana. Shira Renee and Dylan Thomas will be presenting a program of new tunes and old favorites: opera, jazz, Broadway, and even a “soft rock” tune or two. The all-inclusive meal includes your choice of entree: chicken cacciatore, grilled salmon or pasta rustica. Wine and soft drinks are available at an additional charge. Just $49 per person but advance reservations required. For reservations call (818) 517- 4102.

By Jean Strauber

Entertainment Writer

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