Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On the Twelfth Night of Christmas my true love gave to me... (Twelfth Night at Paperwing Theatre thoughts)

 Twelfth Night  (or, "What you Will") at the Paper Wing Theatre Company. 
This show is funny!

That’s it, the beginning, middle, and end of the “review” of this show. It’s funny. I’m done.

Not enough? Did you not notice the exclamation point at the end of the sentence that encapsulated my sum total thoughts regarding the show? You, dear faceless reader, are a demanding little snot-muffin. I tell you the show is funny and you want more. You expect more. You demand more. Very well-

This show is VERY funny!

There. Are you happy now?

Oh, you’re not. I’m sorry, I thought that would settle the matter. But I suppose you want to read a little more, something a bit more in depth, and that’s where I’m going to have to grind through the muddled thoughts in my holiday soaked skull to find a way to express the pure comedy that is 12th Night at the Paper Wing Theatre. I suppose it starts with the direction from Jody Gilmore, one of the most gifted comedians here on the Central Coast. This is a dream project for the man and I expected nothing short of comedic brilliance and yet he still managed to exceed my high pedestal expectations.  As a fan and student of classic comedy, Gilmore pulled out all the stops to bring Shakespeare to a contemporary audience who may not have all the patience in the world for “thee” and “thou”- Gilmore succeeds in making the show accessible to any age. He incorporates tried and true physical comedy and characters to tell a story that is hundreds of years old.

Acting? I’m not really sure I saw a lot of that Shakespeare-type prancing on the stage this past weekend- I saw characters.  I almost immediately started to love these characters and these personas and that’s so much better than simple “acting”. I became a fly on the wall for some of the funniest performances I’ve ever seen- Penelope Morgan is our “every-man” central character to the plot; Viola. Her brother’s died in a recent boat wreck and the woman is alone in the world, left to make her own way. She dons a man’s guise and finds employment with the pining Duke of Illiria, Orsino. Our Duke is head over heels in LOVE with- well, he’s definitely in love. He’s so absolutely devastated by the impact of that LOVE, he’s left to wander in a robe and lament the lack of reciprocation for his great and heedless LOVE. Christopher Sullenger is hilarious as the pining Orsino as he laments the need to share the full boundless passion of his love. And the object of his passion? Mindy Whitfield’s “Olivia” isn’t in love- she’s in mourning. Oh, yes- her dearest brother has passed to the next world and Olivia will see no light in her misery. Others seek her hand in marriage- but she has no time for any of that nonsense, nothing should interfere with her mourning. At least until the Duke’s latest envoy seems a little too dismissive of her renowned beauty- and then Olivia’s own interest is piqued. Whitfield is both beautiful and charmingly spoiled as she desperately seeks to gain the attention of the one man in all the island who isn’t totally enamored with her- and the love triangle is further complicated when Viola’s twin brother; Sebastian (Eric James Morton) is revealed to have not drowned in that shipwreck.

And then there’s the “other” story- Olivia’s Uncle is a mooching drunken lecher named Toby Belch (Patrick Golden). His best friend and drinking partner is one of Olivia’s many suitors; a bumbling fool with a thick purse by the name of Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Nicholas Kelley). The two are joined in their jolly romps by one of Olivia’s other servants, Fabian (Allison Smith). And the three rapscallions are opposed by the oppressively proper Steward, Malvolio (Jay Devine). When the group are confronted after a particularly rowdy night, Belch declares vengeance on Malvolio and it’s the Lady’s own Maid, Maria (Beverly Van Pelt) who concocts the device by which the others will have their revenge. And let me be as clear as I can- this whole story could stand on its own as a play in and of itself! This is Shakespeare as played by the Marx Brothers with a little Burns and Allen on the side.  

Round out the cast with the Dukes’ men, (Adam Kinkade and (on this night) Jody Gilmore) who are left with the responsibility of apprehending known pirate and fugitive, Antonio (Played by Ralph Cordoza). Antonio has his own stake in events because he’s the man responsible for saving Sebastian- and in bestowing great affection on the man, the pirate puts himself at risk.

And twining her way between both stories is the ever present tramp of a jester, Feste. I mean “tramp” in the comical sense with a nod of respect to Charlie Chaplin and other great comedic performances through the years. Jourdain Barton struts around the stage with quips, one-liners, scathing criticism of the people around her, a hand out for coin, a nose up to arrogance, and she is constantly speaking truth to power. She challenges with a jest- the mourning, the LOVE, the stodginess, the drunkenness, the cowardice, and the rest of the world surrounding her straight up to the closing moments of the production. As an admitted fan of Barton’s previous work as an actress and a director, I’m not going to make any secret of saying that this may be my favorite onstage performance from the young woman and I absolutely wish I had a second set of legs upon which I could stand and applaud.

But the thing is- I was already standing. I was already applauding. Because the moment the first person came out for their bow, I was up on my feet. This cast deserved an eruption from the audience in attendance I did my best to give it to them for the joy they gave to me. I was enthralled from beginning to end, I was laughing, I was filled with joy, and this show made me feel some genuine happiness in a season filled with great highs and great lows.

I can’t tell you any more without heading into big time spoiler material- these are performances that should be seen, appreciated, and encouraged. This is a great show and a great holiday closer for the Paper Wing Theatre.
This show is funny!

5 out of 5.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Little Matchstick Girl thoughts-

The Little Matchstick Girl

The cold night falls on Manhattan's Five Points and the immigrant Irish community struggles to make ends meet at the turn of the century- fighters, promoters, barmaids, businessmen, and street urchins ply their trades and a lone girl tries to sell her matchsticks to any one that wanders by. The original story is a Christmas classic, a heart wrenching story about closing our hearts and the terrible price others may pay. Adapted for the stage by local playwright; Marjorie Lowry and directed by Kelsey Posey, The Matchstick Girl is currently playing at the 425 Carmel Avenue in Marina. And although the story itself is fairly bare bones, Lowry takes advantage of the streamlined nature of the tale and uses it to frame a story about intersecting lives during the early days of the last Century. Urchins struggle with their position in life, a fight promoter mixes his hand in several shady deals, a business man tries to get some last minute shopping done for his children, immigrants work to make a new life for themselves, and so on, so forth- the cast is fairly large and incorporates a number of meaningful vignettes into the full narrative.

And, okay, let me be honest- I misplaced my program. And this is the part where I would be talking about the cast, but I don’t have any names to put to the characters- save for the few people I’ve previously seen or worked with on other projects. And every performance deserves praise, not just the few people I’m familiar with. So what would you like me to do here, Faceless Reader? The villains were dastardly villainous, the children were appropriately adorable, the downtrodden were trodden, and so on so forth. It was a fantastic cast that seemed to be having fun on that stage, as if they were having the time of their lives, which is always fantastic to watch and feel from the audience. I honestly loved this cast, though I can't resist mentioning the heart melting antics of the little Pick Pocket as she nibbles a stolen cookie. She'd make Grumpy Cat smile.

Did I mention the music, too?

Nearly every scene featured a Holiday Standard sung by the performers, some in chorus and others with strong and heart-felt solo performances to piano accompaniment. This gave the show another strong backbone to fall upon as the cast doubled as a carol troupe and the only thing missing was a warm cup of cocoa with marshmallow. In particular, the duet between grandmother and child brought a few tears to my eyes.

4.5 out of 5.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Dracula at MPC

First, a word of caution: I have a warped sense of humor. Am I clear on that? Good? Let me continue-

The Holiday Ham was served a little bit early this year- MPC's production of Dracula ramps up the camp with snarling vampires wearing teased hair, modern "Goth" sensibilities, and plenty of stage make-up for the Halloween season. Necks aren't the only things to get chewed up in this melodrama as the cast revels in performances that are mostly way over the top- but in a good way. It's obvious most of the actors are having fun with their performances and it keeps the energy going through most of the show when the exposition threatens to drag the pace down at points-

 James Brady totally nails the role of Professor Van Helsing, a man of medicine and the occult who arrives at Dr. Seward's (Dale Thompson) sanitarium to answer a call for aid. The good doctor's intended has recently passed away and her friend is now suffering the same symptoms. It doesn't take long to track down that the problem is a significant loss of blood and that Van Helsing may know more than he initially reveals. Complicating issues are the insane ramblings of a resident lunatic with the name of "Renfield", whose dialogue is magnificently chewed up by Matt Pardue in another highlight performance. The most effective scenes of the show are when Van Helsing is forced to match wits with the lunatic, and I had a blast watching those two characters play off one another.

The titular character- that's what you all really want to know about, right? Well, Matthew Pavelis tackles the role with incredible enthusiasm and great energy. He snarls, he growls, and he chews up the dialogue with an Eastern European accent while strutting around the stage on huge platform boots and swishing his cape. There are huge moments of exaggerated menace that plays straight to the audience and it never lets up. He successfully channels Bela Legosi and Gary Oldman (The set design and general look of the show seems to show a strong affinity for the Coppola film), so it works on those levels.

This isn't the Dracula I know and I love, though. Names are changed, characters shifted, and events transpire out the usual sequence. I'm not a stickler for a faithful rendering of the classic novel, however. My favorite Dracula film remains the Hammer production (which is not at all faithful, but if you're expecting something closer to the novel then at least be forewarned. Lucy (Westfall, here, rather than Westenra) switches places with Mina in the order of victimization- and the suitors are reduced to only Dr. Seward and Jonathan Harker, respectively. We have Abram Van Helsing father than Abraham, and so on so forth. All the changes don't need to be mentioned, sufficed to say that they're present and so you should be prepared.

4 out of 5.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Some Deadte Press Books I recently got: Wooohooo! BOOKS!

I’ve recently broken down and taken to ordering a few items here and there from Amazon- which is to say, there are no bookstores nearby that sell new releases, much less carry an individual “Horror” section for those of inclined toward literary bloodletting and terror. I don’t get a chance to catch up on my favorite authors all that often and so many of my “reviews” of these sort may be a bit old- but I’m an avid reader and tend to mow through books with a voracious appetite for the especially sick and twisted. So buckle yourselves in for a quick jaunt through my recent finds:

The Innswhich Horror: By Edward Lee

Edward Lee is considered one of the genre’s sickest writers. And when he decided to tackle some Lovecraft, I eagerly leaped at his “Travel Journal” book- but the one I really wanted to read was based entirely on the title; “The Innswhich Horror” brings to mind the very crux of Lovecraftian lore- the towns of Dunwich and Innsmouth with a little nod to the familiar strain of titles in the genre. I didn’t really care what the book was about, I just loved the title-

This book could read as a sequel of sorts to his previous “Journal” effort, this time following a devotee of the writer as he traces the “Master’s” path throughout New England. He comes a town that shares far too much in common with the protagonists beloved “Innsmouth” and he discovers that not all of Lovecrafts’ amazing tale was one of fiction. There are certainly changes since the Masters’ last visit and visceral gore replaces some of the atmospheric purple prose of Lovecraft’s style, but the story moves along at a quick pace and delivers the goods so far as the gore and blood and disturbing imagery are concerned. My one concern is that I don’t feel as though I had enough time with the lead characters to form a connection. There was something missing here that wasn’t missing in the much shorter “Journal” and felt a little rushed. I still enjoyed the story, but would’ve preferred more “bang” for my buck.

3 out of 5.

Last of the Albatwitches : By Brian Keene

I love love LOVE Brian Keene, even if I do find his work to be an exercise in suffering and total masochism on my part. The guy tears me apart with his prose and renders me little more than a gibbering fool by the time I’ve finished most of his stories. But ever since he left the crappy publishing company that screwed him over on royalties and went to Deadite (which upped the price of nearly every title I already had and any forthcoming by maybe a little more than 50%) it’s been hard to catch up on his latest outings. But I was eager to catch up on the adventures of his recurring “Powwow” Wizard and former Amish-man, Levi Stolzfus.

And talk about wishing for more “Bang” in my buck- Levi appears in two short stories here, fighting a demon in the first and then facing one of the erstwhile terrors from Keene’s previous effort in “Castaways”. And what we have here are the beginnings of a better story, but not enough to justify spending $12 on a paperback book. $3 less and I might not have such a negative opinion of the book- but it’s that $10.00 limit that just sort of sticks in my craw and leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth for the little bit of income I can afford in keeping books in my hands.

“The Witching Tree” is the first story and is the better of the two as we find Levi doing what he does best- fighting evil. We see what he’s willing to do, the cost he’s willing to pay, the doubt in his heart, and the fear that leads him to make what might be the biggest mistake in his career as a “Mean MF’in Man of God” (quote to Tarantino via “From Dusk Til Dawn”). I loved this story and would’ve enjoyed a second chapter in the longer tale-

“The Last of the Albatwitches”- however, only peripherally continues the story as Levi is forced to deal with the consequences of his actions in the previous story. The focus, however, is on the hunt for a monster baddy straight out of the pages of a previous work from Keene (“Castaways”). This monster escapes from Captivity and Levi tracks it down- there are some passing references to a Pennsylvania legend known as the “Albatwitch”- a creature I am wholly unfamiliar with despite having grown up in and around the New York area and not so far from Pennsylvania Amish country. So I’m not entirely certain whether this creature is a creation of the writer or if this thing (A close cousin to Big Foot, by description) is a real legend from the back country. Be that as it may, the story felt a little rushed and maybe a little lighter than many I’ve read from the Pennsylvania native.

3 out of 5.

There are a few other titles I’d like to read from Deadite Press, but the problem is that these books cost money that I just don’t have available to me. It seems the titles are almost half the price in Kindle format, but that means purchasing an electronic device for the sole purpose of purchasing a product. I’ll probably come to terms with it eventually, but it still grates in my engine block.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why living near the Monterey Peninsula is so awesome...

I can’t begin to explain how unbelievably lucky and unbelievably overwhelmed I am by the Halloween season here in Monterey County. I like to write about all the things I do and I like to promote them as much as possible, but I can’t be everywhere or do everything and I’m stretched thin enough as it is despite my girth. But, really, the Halloween season is just the beginning and as I’m perusing our local “alternative newspaper” for events and things to do I am absolutely astounded by the opportunities present. You’ve all had a chance to read my thoughts regarding Belladonna’s Mysterious House of Mysteries and The Rocky Horror Show, respectively- but now I find myself wishing I were made of money to support all the local performers- as it is, I’m only made of words and I’m sort of going to have to share some info in hopes that my name carries enough weight to lead a few stragglers through a few doors here and there.

1.      Dracula: I want to see this show SO bad! I love Dracula- I love the horror, the not-so-subtle allegories to be found in the story, the dramatic flair of our villain, the assurance of Professor Van Hellsing- I’ve seen faithful and not so faithful adaptations and I’ve been thrilled and amazed with both. So I’m hoping to catch this show before it’s far too late. The show’s only playing for a short time so catch it before it’s too late!

2.      Harvey: And on the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the Western Stage production of Harvey. There are already big tears in my eyes every time I even think of this story- the Jimmy Stewart movie is one of my all-time favorites and is a story I absolutely love and identify with on so many levels.

3.      Castle of the Dead: This isn’t a stage production, but is rather a Haunted Attraction where the proceeds benefit the Sun STREET Center in Salinas. It’s a fun little scare-trip. You walk in, the actors perform in each room with a specific thematic element- vampires, a visit to the barber, some delicacies for sale, and on through a twisting maze of horror.

4.      Remo D.’s Manor of Mayhem’s Halloween Episode: He’s been on the Peninsula for over ten years where he’s shown the best in horror, sci-fi, and creature features. He’s broadcast on channel 24, the local access channel, and he’s sure to have a surprise or two in store for this production!

5.      Puppet Up Company’s Puppet-making and Cos-play class: Fresh on the heels of a successful latex mask class, Ricki Vincent sets up shop at the Paper Wing Fremont location for his next class in theatrical designs. There’s a sign-up and cost for materials, but the skills attained are an invaluable asset to any theatrical company.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rocky Horror Returns: Is there more to say here? YES!!!!

One year ago I wrote my thoughts regarding the Rocky Horror Show at Paper Wing Theatre- and so here I am a year later and with another performance I was afraid I'd have nothing to write about. My last experience was amazing, fantastic, glorious, and very entertaining. And so there couldn't be anything more to add to that, right?

Leave it to Koly McBride to kick me in the face with a reminder that no two shows are really the same and that there's always something to think about after an experience. Because not only am I blown away by my experience this year, but there's plenty of things to write about, talk about, and just generally GUSH all over regarding this show. (That pun regarding "gush" is a blatant and perverted reference to ejaculation, for those of you who missed it. Did you miss it? It missed you.)

I mention McBride for two reasons- first, she's the director. Her vision guides the project each year that Paper Wing tackles the show and each year she comes up with new ways to make it new, fresh, and interesting. She knows she has to hit all the familiar notes, she knows she has a huge landmark show to produce that will bring in hardcore fans and new faces alike, and she knows she can't afford to just bring out the same set, the same routines, the same look each and every year. She has to make it interesting- and she does. Last year saw the music coming from a "big band" perspective with horns and rhythm and a distinctly "upper class Jazzy" kind of motif- this year she takes us on a ride through Glam-Rock Punk 70's-80's motif with a that same edge through the music. (I've been told musician Christopher Lopez should get a shout out here, so here it is.)

Second: She fucking nails it as Trixie- though this is a role she shares with actress Kate Hill. I rarely get a chance to see Koly shine as a vocalist, but she has an awesome voice and is always a great performer.

Let me start with LJ Brewer as Frankenfurter- it's always the first place to start and with everything I wrote last year still being in full effect, Brewer's performance takes on a slightly new look along with the whole rest of the show. Yes, he's the rock star. Yes, he's carrying so much of the show across his capable shoulders. Yes, he's glorious. Yes, he gave me and my wife a little shout-out during his opening number with a "Happy Anniversary" (It was our 11th, did I mention? Eleven years of marriage.. wow! Back to the show... ) and the show rocked on with his amazing vocals. Is it any wonder that this is the Paper Wing Theatre's signature show with LJ Brewer in this role?

Jay DeVine also returns in the role of the narrator. Now, many of you faceless readers who are familiar with my earlier thoughts regarding previous performances know damn well that I think Jay is one of the best and most endearing actors on the Central Coast. Firstly, the guy is a work horse- from comedy to horror to serious drama, he can do it all. He plays bigger than life characters and I've never seen any two be the same person. His performance as the Narrator is something very special- not only does he play it well, but he handles audience participation like a pro and often rolls with the punches and comes back up with a few one-two knockouts of his own to throw back at the audience.

 But I wrote about all of this last year- and I said there was more to write about this year, didn't I?

Reprising their roles from last year are Nick Kelly as Brad (asshole), Heather Hahn as Janet (slut!), the very beautiful and capable of cutting, smashing, and slashing with a glance Jourdain Barton as Magenta (She's your sister!) and Taylor Landess as Riff Raff- all of whom are amazing. They always are. But let me take a moment to talk about Landess, who last night took his role to a who'nudda'level last night! GOOD GOD!!! I thought he was going to kill himself during the "Timewarp" with an energy level that just has to be seen to be believed. He was leaping, sliding, jumping, running, and belting out those notes with an absolute FEVER and he didn't need any goddamn cowbell to cure it. Good Fucknuggets, this kid just poured something acidic into his performance and MELTED the goddamn stage down. So what do you do when all of this is going on? What do you pour on top of it?

You bring in a few new cast members to fill out the ranks.

 I've now seen three different ladies play Columbia- each one brings a special something to the role and this occasion is no different. Mindy Whitfield's comedic timing is excellent. I genuinely felt badly for her when she bore the brunt of Frankenfurter's abuse, also. Her tap-dancing routine is definitely something to watch- and watch out when she has her big hissy fit. Hilarious!

And then there was Rocky- I'm speechless. Not a knock any previous Rocky's I've seen before this show but Dan Kutter breaks the goddamn mold up there! Kutter's performance is going to be one to remember for a long time to come- It certainly helps that the guy is cut and defined, has amazing looks, and also looks like he's having a blast up there on the stage. He also knows how to work an audience- he connects with people in the crowd, he offers winks, a flirtatious smile, a flex here and there, and then tops it all of by remaining in the "moment" on stage and continuing to interact with his cast mates. Kudos to Kutter for this performance.

Now, there are two specific roles I haven't mentioned yet: This is because I need to write about the show I see, not the show I don't see an that requires clarification. The roles of Eddy and Dr. Scott are played by multiple people at various points- Ron Moore tackles both roles on some performances while the roles are divided between Michael Alliman as Scott and Andrew Nava as Eddie. So with that said, the performance I saw featured Nava and Alliman in the performance-both are amazing.

Nava's strong vocals have a chance to shine in "Hot Patootie"- the young actor is reprising his performance from last year and he has a whole new comfort level that shows. He's fantastic!  I've enjoyed watching him grow as a performer over the past year and look forward to future stage appearances.

Alliman is hilarious! He tackles Dr. Scott with fervor and chews up the German accent with a love for the show and the theater. He's another one who shows how much fun he's having on the stage with a couple of playful antics with Brewer and some others.

And now I'm going to bring this all around again to talk about the last three performers returning to their roles- all three of whom I've written about plenty in the past but the truth is that something is missing from these thoughts if I don't expound a little on their performances. Nick Kelly is pitch perfect as Brad- he has that cheesy "ham" performance down with a few challenging "poses" to Frank followed by the crumbling realization of his characters nebbishness. Hahn- seriously? The woman come back year after year and fucking kills it over and over again. But let me add something that maybe I haven't mentioned before but bears mentioning... her vocals during "Heroes" have always always always sent chills down my spine from the first time I heard her sing it to last night. So many other songs on the show are considered highlights, but that one moment (at least for me) is a huge moment that shows just how powerful, emotional, and heart-wrenching a performer that Hahn is. She's gifted in so many ways and I love watching that moment.

And Jourdain Barton? Magenta haunts the whole of the production with her withering glares, a few rolling eyes, and a slightly sadistic chuckle regarding the plight of our "would-be heroes" and her employer. I mentioned Landess earlier performance during the "Time Warp", all of which is possible because Barton matches his vocal strength perfectly an shows terrific restraint in sadistically watching her brother go fucking bonkers-

In other words: All three fucking deliver year after year.

5 out of 5.

Photos Courtesy: Robbie Ann Cunningham 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Belladonna's Room of Mysterious Mysteries @ Paperwing Fremont: Thoughts.

I like puppets.

I actually think it's a pretty cool way to express theater and art.

My friend is Cody Moore, an amazing artist and theatrical personality that I've had the pleasure of working with at various points in my own theater career. I own one of his paintings, which is hanging on the wall beside me at the moment that I'm typing. It was a birthday present from my wife. He's awesome- and in everything he does he puts his heart and soul into it and it always shows. He's fantastic!

Belladonna's Rom of Mysterious Mysteries is presented by Cody and Ricki Vincent at Paper Wing Fremont- it's an interesting spectacle of storytelling and variety show shenanigans anchored by Moore's full body puppetry that he carries on his shoulders- figuratively and literally. And he absolutely shines.

Cody Moore is Belladonna, a witch or fortune teller with a shop of mystery and amazement- she hosts the audience with comedic shenanigans and introduces the various acts taking place. The full body suit reminds me a little of the Hags from Labrynth and the facial construction of the witch is full on outstanding- one eye bulges while another squints through a lid forced half shut by wrinkles.

The Mirror Ghost was fantastic- I cracked up with her false finishes and facial expressions, even if the mirror's twist made it a little difficult to follow from certain angles. The performance was well done.

The strip teasing puppetry was fluid and very fun to watch work.

And then there was Jody Gilmore with a nice nod to the original Frankenstein when he introduced the show and its' performers.

And then there was Ricki Vincent- who started the show with a very passionate nod to his own art that I appreciated very deeply right up until he decided to talk about people who dropped out of the project for whatever reason they felt necessary. Calling out a specific show by name, citing specific incidents and insulting these people who were unable to DONATE their fucking time to his project was classless and immediately set my hackles up since I do know precisely how valuable a commodity time can be in an art form. Any art form.

And the fact is that I wish I could've let it go at that- but he continues his form of "art" by attacking people during his own performance (The only dialogue not previously recorded) by going after Republicans. I already criticized the last show I saw for doing such a thing- obviously I'm going to be consistent here.

As these were the only real drawbacks to the performance I do still recommend it. I think puppetry is awesome and Cody Moore really carries on with an amazing performance- Other shout outs to the stripper marionette and the fluid control with which the handlers brought life to the figure. The set was well done and I loved the little Subspecies in the jar near the mirror- love Full Moon Video.

3 out of 5.

*EDIT NOTE: The portion featuring the demon Dante was an "ad lib" part of the show where the demon takes questions from the audience. The issue regarding the attack on Republicans may not be indicative of additional shows throughout the run, but as I'm only able to write about the shows I actually see I can't comment regarding shows I haven't seen. I apologize if my thoughts were in any way misleading. Additionally, I don't want anyone to take my views too seriously... I'm a guy on a computer with an opinion. Nothing more, nothing less.

I am adding this note because I've been battering myself for the past 24 hours regarding whether I should share my thoughts or not. I've talked about it with colleagues and friends, none of whom are saying I should take down my thoughts- I'm adding this note because while I may have had a difference of opinion that in no way diminishes my respect for ANY of the performers as artists. That includes Ricki Vincent, who I do admire for his innovations in the realm of puppetry and performance art. And this show has so much going for it that my few issues should not be seen as anything close to a condemnation or slam- they're just the ranting opinions of a guy who occasionally can't keep his opinions in his head.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

shaking crying and horrified: My thoughts on "Tusk"

Kevin Smith is one of the defining voices of my generation. That isn't always a good thing, mind you- I often think he's a vacuous, fearful, and somewhat arrogant little prick but Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma are some of the best comedy films I've ever seen and the guy mostly cracks me up. There are some clear misses in his repertoire, though- Cop Out was awful. His decision to step away from The Green Hornet was cowardly. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was fan service masturbatory back slapping. Red State was political pandering. And, largely, he tells the same story over and over again- even with a different plot the story's theme often remains the same... accepting responsibility for yourself and being a goddamn grownup.

So I wasn't ga-ga over seeing "Tusk" but the Human Centipede-like story was intriguing enough to stir my curiosity. I mean, body alteration horror is not always my bag but I know it'll at least bring me a few laughs. So I took myself to the theater for a matinee show and plopped myself down in an empty theater to catch this one before it made it's exit. Now that I've given you some back story regarding my thoughts on Kevin Smith as a film maker allow me to tell you about the film.

"Tusk" is about a foulmouthed podcaster/comedian (Justin Long) whose career is taking off when he adapts the vicious personality of an unfettered douchebag hipster. He makes fun of people on the internet... that's his life. His fiancee (Genesis Rodriguez) doesn't like the "new" version of him, his partner (Haley Joel Osmont) is riding those coattails to the top, and even he may not be very fond of the new him. But when his latest attempt to interview one of his recent targets goes awry, he comes across a posted ad where an old seaman will rent a room in return for nothing more than a willing ear to his life's adventures. And so Wallace sets out to meet Howard Howe(Michael Parks)- and things become twisted from here on out.

The general premise here is that Howard wants to turn Wallace into a human-Walrus hybrid. He drugs him, cuts off his leg, explains his plan, and then starts in on the process while the fiancee and partner set out to track down Wallace with the help of the mysterious "Guy Lapointe". And all of this sounds like a ridiculous premise for a film- it's absurd, it's comedic, and how in the hell could this ridiculous idea even start to give me the shivers? Because the spectacle is one thing- we've seen it in the Human Centipede and various other "shock body horror" films... but Kevin Smith has something to say here and he makes this movie very much about the characters. And this is where the film breaks with the comedy and the absurd because it is very much about the physical and psychological transformation of Wallace and the people in his life.

Justin Long may never win an award for his performance- but it's intense. He's a douche bag, he's a monster before the film begins, and what he becomes is a horror. What happens is a horror. And the film belongs to him and Parks. I can't spoil the film for you, my dear faceless reader- but the end tore me apart in a place I can't even begin to fathom. I'm wrecked. I left the theater and I was stunned- I managed to get to my car where I suddenly broke down crying as the end replayed over and over again in my skull. And I cannot recommend this film- because it horrified me and tore me apart.

Kevin Smith has something to say here and it isn't comfortable and it's more than a little autobiographical in regards to how he may see himself at times. This is a guy filled with regrets and fears and maybe more than a little of what brought him to the theater just crawling around in his soul and wanting to be something more. I don't know how to rate this film... so I"m going to be as honest as I can and look at myself in a way I often don't: As an artist and an appreciator of Art, even if it's ugly and horrifying.

5 out of 5.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

It's so FLUFFY!!! =) (The Marvelous Wondrettes at Paper Wing Theatre: Thoughts)

The Marvelous Wondrettes: A musical by Roger Bean


While I love an edgy show with lots of cussing, lots of violence, a little bit of naughtiness, and some deeply troubling issues to ponder during the drive home- the truth is that I also want to sit there with my son and keep an arm wrapped around him and listen to him laugh, gasp, and say “Wow!”. So when the opportunity came to watch a show that promised a bit of the family friendly entertainment that I was looking for, I jumped and packed the wife and kid in the car and took off for an evening at Paper Wing Theatre’s production of “The Marvelous Wondrettes”, the latest musical production to hit the central coast.

The story is pretty simple- four girls perform a number of popular standards at the High School Prom, interlacing stories that lead directly from one song to the next culminating in the crowning of a the Prom Queen before intermission. When we return, the girls return for their ten year reunion to perform once again, and once again interlace stories from their personal lives that lead directly from one song to the next. There’s audience participation as someone is inevitably dragged to the stage for a number of songs dedicated to their vocal instructor, “Mr. Lee”. (This happened to be me in the performance I saw. Woohoo!) Other audience members and the lighting booth are also referred to as a number of characters in the lives of the four ladies.

And who are these four ladies? The ring-leader and goodie-two-shoes type, Missy, is played by Kate Bradley Faber (who wears two hats as the shows Director). Faber is hilariously awkward in glasses, a too bright smile, and a perpetual goody-two-shoes cheerfulness that unites the other three ladies in spirit and more. Cindy Lou (Jacqui Hope) is the saucy one- laying some beautiful vocals and “make me a star” posing that borders the antagonistic in the first half of the show but reveals a touching level of warmth in the second. Suzy is the blonde ditzy one whose bubble gum chewing and slightly off step clumsiness offers Alyca Tanner’s comedic prowess to shine. And, finally, Laura Hodge rounds out the group as Betty Jean, also called (with a tongue very firmly planted in the cheek) “BJ”. She’s Cindy’s best friend, rival, and foil through much of the production. Her antics to antagonize of undermine the other girl are hilarious! We also get some additional voice-over work from stage manager, Cheryl Karoly, and lighting technician, Ralph Cardoza.

I don’t want to get too much into the songs covered because some of them might bring back nostalgic memories for quite a few and should be experienced more than talked about. “Mr. Sandman” makes an appearance, “Lipstick On Your Collar” is found, and there’s definitely a “Heatwave” in the air. See what I did there? Gave you some titles while making it fit in with a certain degree of narrative description- that right there is talented writing, yo. The songs are all amazingly performed and the lucky souls who get pulled to the stage will get a particular thrill.  

This show is pure fluff- no deep dark deceptions, no screams of horror, no titillating moments of an obscene nature, and no deep explorations into the darkness of the soul. It’s sweet, it’s innocent and it’s fun!

4.5 out of 5!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Irish Curse: At Paper Wing Fremont

In the interest of full disclosure, I am preparing to direct my first show  with the same company responsible for this production. I have a clear business and personal relationship with Paper Wing Theatre and with various people involved with this particular production. I maintain this blog out of a personal interest in keeping my writing skills honed and in promoting the local arts in my immediate vicinity. If you believe this will color my opinion, there’s nothing I can say to change your mind- if you want to read my thoughts, by all means continue and see what I thought of this show.

“The Irish Curse”

Wee Willy Winkies are funny. Admit it- you’ve probably made a couple cliché jokes regarding a man’s car, the size of his feet, or his eagerness to carry a gun. It’s a pretty common thing- I use the word cliché for a reason, obviously. It’s virtually a stereotype- more on that term a little later. So Paper Wing Theatre’s Fremont Location plays host to a show devoted entirely to the Irish Curse and a support group for men whose package may be little more than the envelope found in the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box.

The Irish Curse opened this past Friday and I was lucky enough to attend- Not only that, but I also won a free ticket, my family was out of town, and I needed a good laugh for the weekend. Now- if I want a good laugh there’s definitely one performer that I know who has done more to explore the nature of comedy as an art form than any other person I know. Jody Gilmore was advertised to be helming this puppy from the director’s seat and I have yet to see him go wrong with ANY show he’s ever been involved with. And he doesn’t fail to deliver here, either.

The ensemble cast are New York Irish men brought together by the genetic inconsistency regarding the size of particular body parts. They meet on a weekly basis and they discuss their problems, but it isn’t until the latest newcomer to the group arrives that the men are forced to expose far more than they thought they had- that their feelings run a little deeper than the resentment of God’s little “gift” and involves moments of shame, humiliation, depression, loneliness, and rage.

The group was started out of a dare between the groups two primary organizers, Father Kevin and Joseph, a middle aged and slightly uptown lawyer coping with the end of his marriage. Endlessly chatty and a little on the gullible side, Phil Livernois plays a ranting, raving, and emotionally damaged grump of a man with a bizarrely optimistic outlook on the direction of his life. He’s also the member of the group most willing to confront his demons head on despite (or perhaps in spite of) his nebbish nature. He’s bookended well by the youngest member of the group; Rick (played by Brian Benjamin Balistrari). He’s a brazen braggart boasting about one conquest after another to anyone that might listen. He stuffs his jock strap and has a girlfriend back home and he plays off Josef’s nebbishness and courage in reverse- he’s the first member to speak up and he’s the first person challenged to go a little deeper and expose more than he’s prepared to. And everyone gets in on the the discussion here, so don’t forget about Father Kevin (played by Richard Mueller). Even he has a few personal demons to exorcise on this rainy night.

Everyone has their story- and for every story there are questions, and that’s where Kieran comes in. 

Robert Feeney delivers his best performance to date. He’s been best known on the coast for is turn as “Trekkie” in the local production of Avenue Q, but I’ve never seen him tackle the range of a character like Keiran before. That he delivers such a nuanced performance with a thick Irish Brogue that never once threatens to spill out into Python-esque ridiculousness is testament alone to Feeney’s depth as a performer. But the nuances are what plays best- his sense of timing, his ability to expression emotions without a word, and the clear art of “listening” are what brings the character to life in the story. His character acts as a sort of audience surrogate at first, posing questions and then listening to the answers- but it’s that listening that brings him away from the audience. It’s the listening and the emotional impact of what he hears that lures the audience into identifying and caring about the group as a whole.

And for every good “hero” there has to be a good villain- LJ Brewer hits the ground running as an undercover NYPD officer whose life revolves around the Job and a series of meaningless flings with other men. Stephen’s a bitter, cynical, wise-cracking blowhard who lashes out at those around him with one biting insult after another. He’s an antagonist to the core- but maybe he doesn’t always want to be that- he’s forced to confront more of himself than he ever wanted when he’s repeatedly challenged by the other members of the group. And each of them regain a little more of their own self worth as they present their challenges- to stereotypes, religion, the authority of a police officer, the culture of sex in marketing, and the perception of society’s pressure around them.

Which brings me to my one problem with the script itself. As nearly every rant or assertion is met with a challenge, one politically pandering rant felt like it came straight out of left field (pun intended).  It’s met with cheers from a contingent of the paying audience, but it took me completely out of the story for a moment. Unlike so much of the play, it was met with no challenge, no discussion, and simply accepted as an “as is” sort of declaration. And let me be clear- I’ve never made it a secret where my own political inclinations lie, but I’m not usually prone to getting butt-hurt when a few lines of dialogue betray the playwright’s beliefs. I’ve even been in plays that were often very clearly leaning in a direction opposite of my own- but for a play that deals with challenges to nearly every other declaration, this brief moment took me out of the action that I thought it bore mentioning.

The Irish Curse is a funny play about men facing their insecurities. It’s deeply challenging but there’s plenty of comedy and camaraderie between the cast members that audience members can choose to accept the cigar for what it is. It continues to run throughout most of September at the Paper Wing Fremont location, Fridays and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM. The language and graphic subject matter may not be appropriate for younger audiences.

4 out of 5.

(Back there was an attempt at making a Freudian joke- it relies very heavily on my reader being aware that Freud once said “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”- this was clearly meant to be a joke regarding the phallic nature of his interpretations. It’s a not-too-obscure reference but one that I felt may require explanation so that you, my dear faceless reader, might not feel too lost. You must completely forget that my over-explaining the joke undoubtedly destroyed any shred of humor that may have been in that all so brief and yet overly explained moment in reading the review… PS. I’m not doing this for word count, but rather because I’m writing most of this as a stream of conscious thought.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Summer Sizzle reviews! Guardians and Turtles


It’s been a long time my dearly faceless so let’s get to it:

Guardians of the Galaxy:

Marvel Studios announced production on Guardians a short time ago- it’s got some big names attached to the project, it’s part of the Marvel Universe, and it’s a summer blockbuster- almost all of these things are promises that guarantee at least a decent return in the box office: But it also has director James Gunn at the helm and this changes the dynamic quite a bit for little old me. You see, director James Gunn is a ringer- he’s a guy I keep my eye on. Troma alumni, risk-taker, and the guy who brought us one of the best zombie-alien-comedy-horror hybrids to ever feature Nathan Fillion in a starring role. (Counter THAT argument!) So these are some pretty strange hands to place a huge project of this magnitude- the end question is whether or not the risks were worth taking.

Let me make something clear: Guardians of the Galaxy is NOT a superhero film. Despite taking place in the Marvel Universe, there’s very little that connects this film to any of the previous films beyond the existence of Thanos (who appeared very minimally in the Avengers film and was quite often forgotten by most non-hardcore comic book fans). So there isn’t much to keep the film grounded in the current mythology of the Marvel Universe, and that allows the film to exist on its own merits. And that merit is “Space opera”!

Okay, here’s the thing about Space Opera- there used to be a lot of them. It’s a sub-genre of a sub-genre with a specific niche that has recently been filled by Star Wars and Star Trek with almost total exclusivity. Few movie companies are willing to risk a Space Opera venture- Serenity having been the last one I can remember while everything else is either hardcore science fiction or a “Future War” sort of deal like the Terminator. Whatever- Space Operas are fun little hero quests set in space and Guardians of the Galaxy never lets you forget it. It’s light, it’s fun, the effects are stunning, and the world hopping is always impressive with beautiful shots of the most wondrous and horrifying places to see in the known galaxy.

Be on the look out for cameos galore- Rob Zombie, Nathan Fillion, and Lloyd Kaufman all poke their heads into the film and I’m sure there were more but I lost track. Great fun film for the whole family- well, assuming you’re okay with the occasional cuss word, hand gesture, or body melting laser blasts… okay, fun for a geek family like ours who enjoy Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

4 out of 5. A definite must see.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Heroes in a half shell- with turtle power! Cowabunga dudes! And all that-

Okay, truth be told I wasn’t a big Turtles fan when I grew up. Let me be clear- I was alive and in my early tweens when the show hit the airwaves and my brother got big-time into the turtles. We had the figures but that was largely HIS show- I had my own stuff, he had his stuff, and we didn’t often mix our interests. I could enjoy the turtles but they weren’t the biggest thing in the world to me- but I didn’t hate them either. They were just sort of there and it was a time waster- the movies were interesting if a little on the cheesy side. The comic books were much better…. Darker, grittier, something a bit more vicious and therefore more in my line of interests.

The Michael Bay-produced “Turtle” film is based more on the comic book in regards to the general look and atmosphere- it diverges from traditional source material with regard to some of the background, but not at the cost of the characters themselves. We still have the Turtles, their master Splinter, and the evil dreaded Shredder in all their glory. And it’s a fun ride- Bay’s traditional race-baiting, chauvinism, and potty humor is in low supply (It’s still there, but the supply runs very low) so the film doesn’t drag itself down too much. Action is good, the Ninjas are well animated, and I don’t have all that much to complain about.

On the other hand, it’s not really all that much to talk about either. It’s just a fun little summer film and I’d recommend it if you enjoy genre films. That’s about the best I can say.

3 out of 5.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Well, I certainly have some "Nerve".... hah!


I don’t have much experience on the dating scene. Let me be totally honest, I haven’t been on too many dates myself. I think the last real date I went on was back in my late teens, maybe my early twenties. I wasn’t the kind of guy who did that sort of thing on a regular basis. I’ve been with the same woman since my mid-twenties, we were married when I was twenty-eight, and that’s really all there is to any of that. I’m not too much of a romantic, so there’s a bit of a challenge for me to identify with the two main protagonists in the latest play at Paper Wing Fremont- but I do remember enough about dating to know just how awkward and uncomfortable it can be.

That’s the main premise of the show- a young couple meet for the first time and go on a date after some on-line interaction. He’s a co-dependent control freak with a history of stalking and she’s a borderline schizophrenic with issues of depression and self-abuse. HILARITY! No, seriously, the show is uncomfortably hilarious and plays to the issues of the severely scarred potential lovebirds with moments of genuine affection interlaced with sudden desperation, fear, and honest introspection. The two characters talk about their lives, their interests, their expectations, and reveal parts of themselves that are both beautiful and ugly.

Director Kate Faber steps into the role of Susan in what I’ve heard was the last minute, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell from the performance I saw. She adjusts to the choreography of expressive dancing, captures the manic confusion of a personality disorder in a way that’s actually honest and compassionate while maintaining a good sense of comedic timing. And actor Richard Westbrook matches her moves and intensity with an awkward possessiveness that straddles a fine line between endearingly comedic and blatantly creepy-scary obsession.

I liked the play. I thought it was a funny character study during a moment in the lives of two very unstable people. There’s enough here left open to audience perception and we’re only privy to the single date on this single night, but this is what theater should be about anyone… an exploration of the human the experience and what different people can experience.

4 out of 5.

Monday, May 5, 2014

3 Guys in Drag Selling their Stuff (thoughts)

Three Guys in Drag Selling Their Stuff

This past weekend found me, once again, attending at a show at the new Paper Wing Fremont location where “Three Guys in Drag Selling Their Stuff” opened to raucous laughter. It’s hard to really capture an experience with the written word and then share it with a nameless faceless reader (that would be you), especially when so much of what you experienced can be truly personal. Such was the case when Jay Devine, Phil Livernois, and Jody Gilmore (pulling double duty as director) hit the stage in this gender bending comedy that pushes the envelope and always aims for the funny bone.

The title of the show is either really on the nose or just a little misleading- there ARE three guys in drag, but I'm not sure they're playing 3 Guys in Drag. It's debatable, I suppose- to me I thought they were playing high society women. I thought the casting of men just added to the comedy, but that the characters themselves were not in drag due to some "plumbing" comments. And the jokes come fast and hard when the lights come up as Diva stands in front of her yard with a number of personal belongings on display. She’s trying to raise money in order to purchase a Faberge Egg with which to inter the ashes of her Dentist husband. Lillian (Gilmore) is her best friend and likely the only person who will put up with Diva’s overbearing personality. Lillians’ verbal non-sequiturs left me in stitches throughout the show and it’s her advertised “free punch” that drives much of the narrative as the product is consumed by all three characters. Much of the play consists of verbal sparring, one liners, and a good deal of interaction with (the fourth wall) unseen attendees of the Yard Sale. Devine and Gilmore are quick, well oiled, perfectly timed machine with their quick back and forth dialogue.  Paper Wings full immersion theatrical experience is on full display here as members of the audience become targets to the wit and wisdom of both Lillian and Diva.

Rounding out their little social group is the wheelchair-bound Tink (Livernois), the eldest, likely dying, almost comatose diabetic who is left in the incapable hands of her two friends. Tink speaks in monosyllables, struggles to be understood, and seems just a step away from hilarious oblivion. It’s this character who not only addresses the fourth wall, but breaks it absolutely when she pulls the audience into her head and speaks with clear precision about the precarious nature of her predicament and the eagerness in which she looks forward to an end of her suffering with the two nitwits taking care of her. As an audience member, Livernois’ performance reminded me of Harvey Korman in the Carol Burnett show as the actor struggled to maintain composure and played it up with comedic attempts to hide his face during some of the more physical aspects of the shows performance. It cracked me up, man. I loved it and it’s an experience you’re only really able to capture with a life show when the actors on the stage are having as much fun as the audience themselves.

One could easily see this as a long routine between some of the most impressive comedy teams throughout the ages. From the Three Stooges to the Marx Brothers, and so on so forth. The verbal sparring, the physical bits, and much of the pacing feels like those old zany comedies but the subject matter pushes an envelope and brings a modern sensibility to the material.

The show continues throughout the month of May, with a start time of 8:00 pm. Doors open at 7:30 and I definitely encourage anyone in need of a good laugh to attend, let loose, enjoy the atmosphere and other audience members, talk with the performers after the show, and, as always, support the local arts.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Captain America sequel and a few other movies.


As the armies of Hell march on our world, small pockets of humanity take a stand against the onslaught of evil. We’re introduced to a pair of brothers on the frontline of the last great battle, both of whom are murdered one after the other by Lord Draculon. The younger brother, however, awakens to find himself encased in a body that is more machine than man. He’s quickly drawn back into the battle for Earth and dubs himself “Manborg”, joining the resistance, battling in the arena, and on a quest to find his past and get revenge.

Manborg was shot entirely on green screen with a handful of actors and a variety of special effects; from classic make-up to stop-motion and green screen CGI. It’s an homage to the classic Z-Grade sci-fi movies of the 80’s complete with bad dialogue and ham-fisted acting. It brings up memories of The Exterminators, Laser Blast, Cyborg, The Road Warrior, and a number of post-apocalyptic Terminator, Robocop, and Total Recall rip-offs that swarmed the local video stores in the mid to late 80’s. It probably owes its very existence to the success of the Grindhouse films and seems to want to follow the trend with its’ devotion to another kind of film experience. The movie is balls out one of the funniest, twisted, bizarre, and utterly insane films I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in recent months. With character names like Justice, #1 Guy, and Draculon the film never dwells on taking itself too seriously and barely pays too much attention to its own plot. Characters hate one another at the drop of the hat, offer forgiveness for past crimes, hug, hate each other again, and the dialogue is either dry and generic or brilliantly comedic. Don’t bother to riff the film, because the movie winds up doing that itself at various points. It’s makers knew what they were making and they revel in it.

4 out of 5.

Knights of Badassdom

So this dude gets dumped by his High School Sweetheart. His best friends (Peter Dinklage and Steve Zahn) decide that the best way for him to get over it is to drag him out into the middle of the woods, dress him up in armor, hand him a rubber sword, and have him join in their LARP (Live Action Role-Playing game for the people who don’t know). It’s been years since he last played D&D, and he’s definitely a stranger in a strange land when it comes to joining the Game. And while he’s not overly enthused, he pitches in and is incidentally part of a ceremony that calls forth a very real Succubus from the gates of hell.

I’ve been looking forward to this movie for years. It was announced several years ago, it had a significant following online, it garnered plenty of interest from the Comic-Con panel, and included a number of stars that included genre favorites like Dinklage, Summer Glau, and some dude from that Vampire show on HBO- I don’t know the name and I don’t feel like looking it up on IMDB. Everything about the film just screamed “AWESOME!”- even the director Joe Lynch, whose only real major previous contribution consists of the Direct to DVD cult classic, “Wrong Turn 2”.

I wasn’t totally disappointed. It delivered the grue, it was funny, there were plenty of jokes that would appeal to the geek and norm community with equal hilarity, and there was plenty of sword play violence to be had by all. The rocking Black Metal soundtrack not only drives the action but becomes a focal point of the story in a few places, and the characters are all very likeable and easy to sympathize with.

There were a number of things that I found a little irksome about the film itself, though. Specifically, I don’t think the writers had nearly the respect for LARPing that the director, actors, or crew seemed to express in a number of interviews. Most of the gaming characters are portrayed as complete social outcasts more focused on experience points than they are on the relationships around them. This isn’t entirely a false premise to create. Many people in the gaming community are exactly that, they’re people who don’t tend to fit in with many social settings. It’s a humorous stereotype that I pretty much expect to see in a movie like this. That’s the whole premise for the game of “Munchkin”! But when its revealed that the two least socially awkward characters also happen to not actually BE gamers themselves? That makes it a little insulting. One is there at the behest of his friends, the other is there to “babysit” their game-obsessed cousin. Can you cop out any further in a movie that’s supposed to appeal to the gaming community as it is? Is it possible for the one character dragged in by his friends to actually enjoy the experience and actually meet a fully formed and well developed character who also happens to be a gamer? Did we have to excuse their lack of munchkin tendencies as just being someone who doesn’t really like to play the game anyway? I admit, it’s probably me being a thin-skinned geek who’s long been tired of the taped horn-rimmed glasses, chest high pants, and pocket-protector image conveyed by the geekist leaning media and their jock-led corporate masters.

3.5 out of 5. (Ignoring the stupid post-film “What happened after” bits would probably pump the rating up to a 4, but screw them.)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Good movie. Go see it.

5 out of 5.  

That was my bait and switch, in case you missed it… everyone reading this and hoping to get my thoughts on Captain America, well you can all find one review after another and another. My buddy Shane has one on his Facebook page, check it out. It pretty much says the same thing- I’d rather tell you about the much more obscure movies I’ve been watching with a hope that you lift a curious brow and give them a play on your DVD, Blu-ray, or some form of streaming media.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Mighty Roar of a Lyon... thoughts on "The Lyons"

The Lyons.

Many families are warm, forgiving, gentle, and supportive of one another.

The Lyons are none of these things.

When the family patriarch lies on deaths door the gathering of wife and children are anything but comforting in the older man’s last moments.  The longstanding battle between husband (Richard Mueller)  and wife (Andrea MacDonald) has boiled over and he is done with being polite. Ben’s dropping F bombs left and right, he’s abrasive, he’s upset, and he’s very resentful toward the family he’s helped to create. And Rita’s basking in the glow of that resentment, she’s bathing in his hate as she promises to redecorate the living room once he’s gone and persistently feigns to misunderstand every warm memory the patriarch tries to share. The wordplay between the two is as hilarious as it is cruel.

And that right there is what you’re going to find at the The Lyons; wordplay that’s savage, cruel, hilarious, and maybe a little sadistic. I know I laughed out loud- I know that it was feeding a little dark part of my own self, holding a mirror to some of the shadows in my own family life and giving me a certain degree of ventilation and schadenfreude. I admit there’s a little sadistic part of me that found it a pure joy to laugh at all the horrible things these people said to one another. I’m not ashamed to admit that I virtually guffawed at various points. I had to laugh or I would cry, and there’s plenty to laugh about when you realize that these people most likely deserve one another. None of them are put upon by one another, their suffering is often self-inflicted, and each one of them have fallen into a pattern of abuse and codependency.

Daughter Lisa shows up with an excuse for being late, blaming the traffic and a lack of parking that her family is quick to demolish. She immediately starts in with her own melodrama, making semi-veiled references to her “sponsor”, her youngest being with a sitter while the oldest is spending time with the father, and we are quick to find out that she systematically attempts to make every struggle and pain into something she can own, protect, and cater in an attempt to gather what she sees as sympathy or attention. Actress Penelope Morgan is fantastic and her comic timing is spot on when she’s taking offense at a perceived slight or reacting to the dramatic revelation of her father’s impending death.

Curtis arrives and sparks immediately fly between the siblings, showing a rivalry that’s been going on for their entire lives. More than that, Curtis is homosexual, much to the displeasure of his dying father. And where Lisa is the poor victim, Curtis lives his life as anything but- he’s snarky, arrogant, dismissive, and maybe even a little cruel with his personal interactions. And all of that is played to the hilt by Lucas Tovey. He’s absolutely brilliant in the role and makes the deliciously unpleasant Curtis into a mesmerizing character you can’t help but enjoy watching as he copes with both personal and family drama.

Both children are the product of their parents never ending feud, both embittered and morally questionable brats with few redeeming qualities. Their mutual sniping is virtually encouraged by the parents, and all four snipe at one another throughout the first act with the occasional interruption from a nurse (Marjorie Lowery) who goes nameless throughout much of the play. Don’t be afraid to laugh because the situation seems so bleak. These reprehensible creatures deserve every chuckle you can muster up.

The second act follows Curtis as he continues to cope with the impending loss of his father and certain revelations that have left him too exposed for comfort. He works through several of these issues with his real estate agent, Brian(David Naar). Maybe we start to see a gentler side to Curtis, or maybe this is just more manipulation and cruelty, or maybe something between- I’m not going to say much more beyond the fact that the scene is as powerful as it is comedic.

When the family eventually reunites again, the gloves come off and the fur starts to fly. Watch yourself, because emotional blood is poured out on the stage and all participants gleefully stomp on the gory remains and swim through all that soup for the smallest opportunity to stick another dagger in. If you’ve never had dealings with these kinds of people, you are blessed and you’ll be absolutely shocked into outrageous laughter. If you’re familiar with these people, I sympathize and highly recommend laughing at these people who have so negatively affected our own lives.

The Lyons plays at the new Paper Wing Fremont on Fridays and Saturdays, from 8 pm to 10. The show closes on 4/19/14, so take advantage of the opportunity while it lasts and support the local arts.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

So I broke down and ordered the WWE Network.

WWE Network

Okay, so I’ve been playing with this thing for a little over a week now and I have some thoughts to share- maybe a sort of review, maybe not. But whacha’ gonna’ do, brutha’- ?

I signed up for the WWE network and purchased a Roku-2 in order to watch the programs through my television rather than my computer. I prefer the television and a remote control in my left hand for some strenuous thumb work as I sip from my diet soda with the right. I’m a machine, bay-bee. The Network offers options through a constant live stream in addition to “on-demand” options that I’ll discuss in further detail.

The WWE Network features just about every WCW, WWE, and ECW pay per view. I haven’t been able to identify any events that were truly “missing”, per se, but I’ve heard a few were excluded from the line-up. So what this means is that I can travel back through time and revisit some of my favorite memories in professional wrestling. Ricky Steamboat vs. Savage, Hart Foundation vs. The British Bulldogs, Mankind vs. Undertaker- and that’s just in the WWE. WCW shows like Jericho vs. Mysterio or ECW shows where Tajiri faces Super Crazy are all up for offer through the WWE network and that’s not half bad in and of itself. That’s a dang good chunk of time if I decide to go for a few marathon sessions.

The Network also offers past and rewind episodes of RAW, Smackdown, Superstars, and Main Event (Not the Saturday Night version, though… yet) in addition to the weekly NXT broadcast. The regular shows also feature “backstage” pre and post-shows to further promos and storylines in minor ways. The company is currently padding their additional material with episodes of ECW after midnight, episodes of WCCW broadcasts, and their “Legends of Wrestling” show once a highlight of the WWE On-Demand format from cable. There are plans for a further expansion down as time progresses, so this is by no means an expansive list on everything the Network plans to offer in terms of programming.

The true highlight of the network has absolutely been the focus of attention on NXT. The first live broadcast from the network featured a 2 hour live production of NXT that battered just about every other RAW and WWE pay per view I’ve seen in recent years. The fact that this is where the Wyatts, the Shield, Big E, Cesaro and various others were cutting their teeth for a long while should take a step in telling the level of competition and entertainment within the training camp. It works like a classic territory production with a weekly pre-taped broadcast and featuring talents like Adrien Neville, Bo Dallas, Emma, Sami Zayn, and The Ascension. Their “ppv”-quality broadcast may have served a dual purpose in testing the networks’ ability to broadcast Mania the end of the month as well as introducing fans to a new brand with an alternate format and new characters.

The current search engine through my Roku is a little limiting with some key searches disabled with regard to availability or promotional concerns. Most notably, a search for Chris Benoit will not yield any results despite his appearing in many Pay Per Views without edit. Those matches are still available but you will not find them through the WWE search engine. This isn’t a major fault with the service, however, so it largely becomes a non-entity.

The first week’s broadcast saw few problems, if any, with the live feed. The scheduled broadcasts seem to go off without a hitch. There were, however, a good many problems in coping with the on-demand features as some programs froze or brought error-messages to my Roku box. The week’s progress did improve the performance however and I am finding fewer and fewer stalls, glitches, or error messages with the on-demand features.

Here I’m just going to nitpick about what I am hoping to find… the WWE Old School option of programming seems limited to a very small number of MSG broadcasts. Tuesday Titans, Saturday Night Main Event, or the Saturday Morning and afternoon shows that I grew up on are missing and there are a number of moments from that period of time that I would love to relive. I would also like to see a look back at the old WCW regularly scheduled programming from TBS, their big broadcast show that was sort of like a PPV, and maybe some material from the USWA, Georgia, and AWA along with all the rest of the WWE programming. And with the advent of WWE movie studios, I’m sure the network will start to pad their broadcast material with movies like No Holds Barred, The Marine, and 12 Rounds.


At 9.99 a month and the additional promise of receiving every WWE PPV, this package absolutely delivers the goods. The only reason to not have the channel is if the budget is excessively tight or if a fan simply doesn’t own a single device through which the programming can be streamed. Purchasing the network does require a six month commitment but they really do charge only 9.99 a month as noted in my current billing information.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ugh... Chamber kills the Yesmovement.

The first time I legitimately cared about Pro-Wrestling was way back when Macho Man Randy Savage busted Tito Santana open with a foreign object in order to win the Intercontinental Championship. It was the start of a long reign that saw Savage defend that title against George Steele and several other wrestlng legends before finally being defeated by Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania 3 in what I think was one of the greatest matches in the history of the business. It stole the show and it left me a rag doll on the floor at my Uncles' friends house where we saw Mania broadcast live. It was amazing.

And now we flash forward to last night and the Elimination Chamber- specifically the moment where my suspension of disbelief ended and I just stopped giving a shit. The moment Kane walked down the aisle to put another screwjob finish to Daniel Bryan's opportunity to headline Wrestlemania. Let me be clear- I understood that he was small, that he didn't have the right "look" that the McMahon family wants, and I would have even been happy to see John Cena headline the event against Batista, I would have accepted just about any person at all in the Main Event at Mania. I'm not able to accept Orton vs. Batista. I'm not able to accept it. I realize that I'm a mark or a smark or whatever else the WWE wants to call me and I'm just one fan out of millions, but I was still a fan. And last night's end of the Chamber didn't end with me angry, or booing, or much of anything- I just gave a sigh, felt numb, and I felt like I was finished. I just don't care.

I've had high points and low points as a wrestling fan. There have been huge moments that left me breathless with excitement, left me filled with rage, left me insulted, left me overjoyed, and I have felt every emotion there is to feel from a live on-going storyline that has stretched on some thirty + years for me... from the moment Wrestlemania 1 hit a Video Store shelves and captured my imagination. But I've never felt empty before. Even the worst night I ever experienced as a fan when I woke up from a surgery to discover that Chris Benoit, a man I virtually idolized, was dead- and then found out less than a few hours later that he had died from his own hand after killing his wife and young son. The moment when a hero turned into a monster and I felt like I couldn't even watch wrestling anymore because of the pain- even then, I eventually found my love for the business again and came back to watch a few Pay Per Views and shows and found what it was that held my attention so deeply all those years ago.

Having Daniel Bryan get screwed out of the WWE title for the umpteenth time isn't a travesty, it isn't a horror, it isn't the end of the world. It's just another moment of time in the waning days of a company that forgot what it meant to entertain their fans. And they'll keep doing it because they have no competition and they're not afraid of losing a few customers here and there, because they're not losing them to a competitor. They're losing those customers to disinterest and boredom. They're losing those customers because they're tired of being told who they're supposed to cheer and who they're supposed to boo. I'm done with the WWE for the foreseeable future- I have no interest in the network, no interest in Wrestlemania 30, and no interest in watching a part-timer who happens to be in a future Marvel film get the headlining gig at Wrestlemania in order to face off against a blank slate.

And I get that the company is trying to throw a bone by having Daniel Bryan face off against HHH. And I know that enough people will accept that so that the company can buffer their losses a little bit, but I'm not going to be pacified. I'm just done.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dad's Porn Stash: The review from Shane Dallmann as I'm not going to review my own play.

Reposting from the Facebook Note Review of noted Video Watchdog reviewer Shane Dallmann. 
 The original link is here, I'm posting it on my own blog for posterity's sake. This is a review of the original show I've written.

February 7, 2014 at 11:06pm
While this isn't my first theatre review of the year, I feel that my traditional disclosure/disclaimer is especially appropriate in this case. Not only have I worked with most of the people involved in this production, I also happen to have known the playwright personally for numerous years. And now that I've said that? If you believe that I would give a false impression of a show I went and saw of my own free will; either to score "points" or to give an undeserved "boost" to a friend "just because," then please don't read my reviews. I'm driven to attend movies and live theatre, and I'm equally driven to write about what I watch; and to use a hackneyed phrase, I call them as I see them.

If you've decided to keep reading but still harbor doubts as to my unbiased integrity, I can only ask you to try and track down anyone else who attended the world premiere of "Dad's Porn Stash," the first staged play by local writer/actor Mark Cunningham (who does not appear in the show himself). Any and all of them can and will tell you about the loud, raucous laughter that echoed through the new Paper Wing Fremont theatre (the former home of the Stardust Playhouse) as the simultaneously outrageous and sincerely human story unfolded.

The story itself? Barbara Hanson (Taylor Noel Young) is days away from her wedding to fellow "geek" (comic books, martial arts films) Eric (Taylor Landess), to the combined delight and jealousy of her older sister Ellen (stage newcomer Courtney Haas-VanHorn). We join the sisters at such a time as they're still living with their respectable, church-going mother (Kate Faber), but when dear old Dad has passed away. With Barbara looking to start her new life, the sisters explore their attic in search of Dad's possessions... which should they keep for family memories, and which might be worth investing elsewhere? The comic books (one of the bonds Barbara had with her father) might be valuable... but what's THIS? A boxload of porn videos? Oh, Dad, how COULD you? Does MOM know about this? Wait a minute... you were IN these???!!!

The revelation of their father's past is more than enough to unsettle the sisters. And the newlywed-to-be, completely understandably, lets her fiance in on the secret. So the situation gets more and more... "weird." That word, coupled with a familiar expletive, is one you'd best get used to hearing. And justifiably so.

So you discover that your late father was a 70's porn star ("I did SOME stuff in the 80's...). Is he no longer your father? Is he now completely defined by what he did in the groove of the past? The sisters certainly seem to think so... and their complete and total re-evaluation of who their father was causes his porn persona "Brock Darling" (Michael T. Alliman) to take on a life of his own in the attic (it's telling that we never learn Dad's real name). And now that everybody knows that Brock existed? He's going to exert his influence over the entire family. As for Eric? He's the only character who never gets to meet Brock in the... er... flesh... but now that the secret is out, even he faces stiff (sorry) competition for Barbara's respect. Is Brock all there is now? Or is there any way to reclaim the memory of... Dad? One thing's for sure: once Brock runs interference on Barbara's own secret fantasy of battling a ninja assassin (Ari Reyes), something's got to give...

DAD'S PORN STASH (the title itself is an adult-film pun you shouldn't have any trouble figuring out--and if you do, picture Harry Reems ABOVE the waist) was directed by Paper Wing founder Koly McBride herself (with the redoubtable Jay DeVine handling tech) , and her casting leaves no room for error: Young's natural charm and dancing talents are equally well-deployed; Haas-VanHorn more than holds her own as the sister who has to come to terms with past and present with equally conflicted feelings, and Alliman is quite simply a riot as the archetype of the 70s adult-film arena (and this IS total-immersion theatre, so don't be surprised if Brock has a word or gesture for YOU in the process... I SCARCELY need mention that this show is intended for adult audiences in its own right). If you want dirty jokes, raunchy puns and racy gyrations, you'll get all of that from beginning to end... but this play has just the right amount of "something extra," because the question at its heart is a legitimate one and always was. So your father was a porn star. Is that ALL he was and all he ever will be? And if you disapprove of pornography, does that make the participants necessarily "bad?" In the end, this is still a show about people... and you're going to recognize each and every one of them.

DAD'S PORN STASH will play Fridays and Saturdays through March 8th. Visit for more information.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The End of an Era: My Local Game Store Closes.

The first time I wandered into the Game Habitat, I was overwhelmed. 

There were just so many games, there were so many products, and I felt a little weak at the knees to have found a place such as this. It was wall to wall games! There was a small place in New York that carried similar products, but they were focused primarily on selling paint ball supplies. It was called Dragons Den and there were two whole shelves dedicated to Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darkness, and Palladium products. They carried a very small number of miniatures, but nothing on the scale of this treasure trove in California. I'd never seen anything like it. There were board games, there were card games, there were Role Playing Games, there were miniatures and large tables covered in battle terrain, and signs posting events and a bulletin board for people who were looking to join a game.It was a paradise for my gaming eyes!

Diana Atwater introduced me to a couple of games that day, including Legend of the Five Rings. This was the game that would have the largest impact on most of my life as it really sparked a huge interest in Japanese cinema for me and provided me with a way to connect to various people that would become great friends over the years. Her husband owned the store, and Jonathan Jackson was both a teacher and a friend when it came to learning various new games. I asked him to read a passage when my wife and I were married, they were important people in our lives, and I appreciate the impact they’d had on my life more deeply than I think they realized.They were some of my first friends upon moving to California. They gave me a bridge with which to meet so many other people. From Tom Doolan to Richard Bennett and Joe Papp- I've made some great connections over the years thanks to their store. 

I'll remember the L5R league nights as being some of the best nights of my life. The excitement of Gold Edition decks, the storyline tournaments, picking my clan, fighting for the honor of my favorite heroes. I remember the D&D nights, falling to the corruption of a dark god, finding redemption and dying in battle with my Ranger... both blades flashing in the midst of a war. Spycraft, 7th Sea, Feng Shui, and straight on down into the Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane. I ran a few games, I played a few games, and all in all I had a great time in the building.

When they decided to move on, they sold the store and life coincidentally got much stranger and harder at roughly the same time. It was a struggle to just stop in for a random game or two with the new owners, I just couldn’t get the money or the time to stop in and pick up a regular purchase. But I did still stop in, and I did still pick up the random purchase here and there, and I did try to spend some time there and check out the bulletin board whenever possible. But many games began to die ignoble deaths to time and entropy-

I just discovered the Game Habitat closed. It breaks my heart in many ways, it feels like the passing of an old friend, and it certainly feels like the end of an era. I wish I could revive the experience I had during the past 14 years. The camaraderie of rolling dice around a table as a dungeon master led us from one quest to another, the spectacle of miniature gamers and their painted armies marching into battle on an all terrain table, the pure exhilaration in defending my last province as I eked out another Honor victory against my enemies, and everything that went with all of that.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Live Stage was SOOOOO much better than the silver screen...

Well, the movies were took up far too large a suckage quota for 2013, so let’s talk about something a little bit nicer and let’s look back at the year in live theater around our local area. This’ll come off as a bit biased since I usually only attend shows at the Paper Wing Theatre on a regular basis, but I’ll try to touch base on other shows that I’d either seen or heard about throughout the course of the year. There were plenty of shows vying over my hard-earned entertainment coin and I don’t want those efforts to go to waste without mention. And since I have a soapbox set off in a little private corner of the World Wide Web, I may as well shout a bit. Right? I mean I’m no different than any other ranting lunatic blog.

So let’s cut to the quick: I was broken, shattered, peeled open, exposed, and forced to laugh while soaking in a puddle of tears when the Paper Wing Theatre presented “Mr. Bruce, Do You Swear?” and Jodi Gilmore’s performance left me with plenty of thoughts, opinions, vulgarities, and a desire to express myself as vividly as possible. The play was a look back at Lenny Bruce and the struggle he faced when performing all those years ago with all those terrible words. Rob Foster’s script is available through Amazon and is a terrific read, but the live performance is where it’s at for absolute certain. This show is what live theater is all about- the human experience and the conflicts we face in the world.

Later in the year, Paper Wing again tackled some controversy when they opened Macbeth with a decidedly non-traditional approach that incorporated gothic-punk fashion and music. Several strong performances and direction from Jourdain Barton brought Shakespeare to life and made it accessible for a different audience than the Bard would usually attract. My wife also made her own theatrical debut with this show, and I did get a program credit for helping with some of the special effects.

And following up his performance as the title character in Macbeth, Patrick Golden once again delivered a strong performance as Grant Mazzy in Stardust Theater’s production of “Pontypool”. This bizarre twist on the zombie apocalypse delivered the frights for the Halloween season and made for one of a few outings to the theaters outside of Paper Wing.

Beyond the shows I saw, there were also the shows I didn’t see- Spamalot and Les Miserables fell outside my price range but were two big productions in the local area that I really wanted to see. I heard nothing but great things about them so I wanted to make sure they got little mentions. There was also the Wharf Theater’s production of “Pirates of Penzanze” that I also missed, but more because of scheduling conflicts and my inability to find the time and the money for that period of time. I’m extremely lucky in that the local theatrical performances in my area are really starting to battle over my patronage coins. Well, not JUST mine, but you get the idea.

Returning to Paper Wing and the performances I /did/ get to see, I could be wrong but I felt like the theater opened their season with a bang in “9 to 5: The Musical” with some terrific performances and an ambitious moving set. Their Gallery theater presented  a variety of shows, from the sadomasochism comedy of “Big Baby” to heart-wrenching disolution of a marriage in “The Last Five Years”, the aforementioned “Mr. Bruce”, “Macbeth”, and their Halloween crowd-pleaser “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” of which I was in the audience a number of nights throughout the run. LJ Brewer continues to drop jaws and thrill the blood system with his performance of Doctor Frank N Furter- and then I got to help close the year with by performing in their production of “Bob’s Holiday Office Party”, my only performance in the year but one many are going to find hard to forget. 

Here's to 2014!