For Cynthia Ryanen, All the Office's a Stage With Her Company, Role Player Services

Categories: Theater

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Photo by John Gilhooley
Ready to enlighten your office

In 1999, when this august publication still had peach fuzz clinging to its soon-to-be-wizened cheeks, Cynthia Ryanen drew praise for one of the best acting performances of the year for her work in STAGEStheatre's It's Only a Play. "Ryanen's bitter, foul-mouthed actress was the effortless standout of a nearly perfect cast. Somebody give this woman a sitcom," wrote the Weekly's Dave Barton.

Fourteen years later, another Weekly scribe wrote of her performance in The Balcony, also at STAGES: "Cynthia Ryanen and [castmate] Rick Kopps are outstanding: complicated, cunning, ruthless, soft, tortured, vain, powerful and powerless. If they never worked again on a local stage, they'd leave legacies based solely on their performances in this play."


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UCI's Electra Revives Greek Tragedy Through a Romanian Lens

Categories: Theater

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Paul Kennedy
Scene from 'Electra' at UCI
Electra is one of the oldest existing plays in Western literature. Some version of it is attributed to each of ancient Greeks' towering tragedians: Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus. Through the centuries, the mythological revenge tale has inspired artists as varied as Goethe to Frank Miller, who named Daredevil's femme fatale after her, along with dozens of play, opera and musical adaptations. Hell, even Jung tried to wrap his grubby little fingers around the iconic character with "The Electra Complex," his theory for daughters' psychosexual competition with their mothers for daddy's attention.

So, with it so engrained into the popular (if kinda arty) consciousness, there's no need to do another version right? Not according to Mihai Maniutiu, an internationally renowned director who hails from Romania, and who is currently a theater professor at UC Irvine. This production features guest artists Ioan Pop and Iza Group, who bring something a bit different to this mounting of an ancient Greek tragedy: Romanian folk music which is integrated into the chorus, whose members all play instruments. We caught up with Dr. Maniutiu, and picked his big Romanian brain.

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UCI Play Explores American Racism, Through a Glass Darkly

Categories: Culture, Theater

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Paul R. Kennedy
Scene from The Liquid Plain
Black History Month doesn't officially begin until Feb. 1, but for Orange County theater, it came a bit early. In early January, South Coast Repertory mounted a production of Matthew Lopez' Obie-Award-winning play The Whipping Man, set in the turbulent final days of the Civil War and featuring a slave-owner returning from the battlefield and encountering two newly emancipated men. Closing tonight is the riveting Roger Guenveur Smith, bringing his one-man Rodney King show to the Segerstrom's Off-Center Festival (seriously, just see it.)

And opening tonight, is the California premiere of Naomi Wallace's The Liquid Plain. , which is part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's ambitious United States history cycle, American Revolutions, and was the winner of the 2012 Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American play.

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New Plays Push Boundaries at STAGESTheater

Categories: Culture, Theater

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A lusty chorus of huzzahs to STAGES Theatre! The county's longest-running storefront (going on 20-plus years) has chosen two new, or relatively unfamiliar, plays to local audiences, to begin 2015. And why should you give a shit? Well, new plays mean new voices, new stories. And while the umpeenth production of Dial M for Murder or the Pirates of Penzance might be great for a theater's bottom-line, it does absolutely nothing to grow the medium, or to suggest why people who aren't already into it should care in the slightest.

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'The Whipping Man' Shows a Side of the Civil War South You've Never Seen

Categories: Culture, Theater

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Courtesy South Coast Repertory
Cast of the Whipping Man (left to right): Adam Haas Hunter,Charlie Robinson and Jarrod M. Smith
Wait a minute: there were Jews, real, live, Torah-reading Jews in the Confederate states in the Civil War, many of whom actually fought FOR the South? And some of these Jews had slaves who were raised Jewish and actually considered themselves Jews?
Matthew Lopez' play, The Whipping Man may sound like a piece of historical speculative fiction, but it's based on true accounts of people like Judah Benjamin, a prominent Louisiana lawyer who was the first Jew ever elected to the U.S. Senate and who also served as the Confederacy's secretary of state.


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Straight Outta Broadway: Three Musical Theater Events Coming to Orange County

Categories: Culture, Theater

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Jeff Skowron and Timothy Hughes in Big Fish.

Love, despise or just don't give a general damn about them, musicals continue to reign supreme in American theater. They get the most attention, the most butts in seats per venue, and are pretty much what most god-fearing Americans care about when it comes to theater.

And if you're a fan of the bright lights and the (mostly) thin ideas of big, boffo Broadway musicals, you're in the right place for the next couple of weeks -- Orange County. From Big Fish to Pippin to Stephen Sondheim, here's three Broadway shows or events happening in OC, or right next door, this week:


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Beat Theatre Brings Experimental Film + Beats to the Frida Tonight with Santa Sangre

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Antonio Brown/ Courtesy Tony Damico
Gabonano scoring The Shining with fresh beats
The aural, visual experience of a Beat Theatre show is unlike your typical cinematic live re-scoring event. You take a classic art house/avant garde film and pair it with the sounds of original beats made by underground beat producers, and you get a hypnotic, ultra-sensory experience that connects sight, sound, and mind.

While the beat scene remains fairly under the radar from its mainstream-EDM counterparts, local beat artists consider Beat Theatre to be a space for inspiration and connectivity to other artists, while for the performers themselves it's a place to give their bedroom compositions some exposure.

Dating back to 2013 in Long Beach, Beat Theatre shows have always taken place at smaller venues like houses, cultural centers and dive bars, but tonight they'll be making their actual theater debut at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana with a grand pairing of the 1989 Alejandro Jodorowsky film Santa Sangre, featuring the musical talents of DJs Afta 1, AshTreJinkins, Eludem, Gabonano, and Memesy.

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How Could 'War of the Worlds' Be Such a Bore?

Categories: Culture, Theater

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It's hard to tell if the actors in War of the Worlds: The Radio Play are pretending to be radio actors afraid of a Martian invasion of Earth, or if they are real actors fighting boredom. Whatever the case, they're losing either battle.

The mother of all mass media hoaxes, the effects of Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre actors' 1938 radio performance of H.G. Wells 1898 sci-fi classic, while sensationalized by the newspapers of the time, certainly showed the power of that mass media. While there was nothing like the widespread panic in the streets of America we commonly associate with the event, there were enough people who believed the entirely fictitious performance that the Federal Communications Commission seriously considered mandating that all radio programming be reviewed by government censors before broadcast.


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This Epic Production Refuses to Let Audiences Stay in One Place

Categories: Culture, Theater

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Call it the most ambitious theater initiative in Orange County history. The most striking community outreach in Orange County cultural history. An ode to the turbulent, dense, culturally diverse city of Santa Ana.

It's all those things, but in its premiere performance,The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy is also something else: realllllly long.

Clocking it at about two hours and 40 minutes (about twice the time listed in the program) the length isn't terminal. There's enough going on in this movable feast--from dance and music to puppets and video projections--to hold your interest. But considering the audience is split into four groups and travels across a good chunk of Santa Ana's civic center to four site-specific areas, where four scenes are enacted, there's an awful lot of moving and standing around (unless you were one of the lucky few to get the memo to bring your own folding chair).

Then again, when a play takes a year to write, when more than nearly 1,000 people are interviewed, and their cumulative recollections and insights are distilled into a play, it's a monumental task keeping things concise.


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Elvis Makes a Triumphant Return to the Maverick Theater

Categories: Culture, Theater

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Courtesy of the Maverick Theater

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Maverick Theater
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It may not be completely accurate to say The King is the play that built the Maverick Theater. After all, there have been other shows at the Fullerton space since Brian Newell's homage to Elvis Presley, who wakes up after decades of cyrogenic slumber, first opened.
But since then, Newell has staged the play about 6,000 times (well, really just seven or eight or maybe it's 50) and it's continued to lure huge crowds in every incarnation.
And, now, Elvis is back at the Maverick. But there's no concern that Newell will kill any golden geese with this one. His new Elvis homage is Elvis '68, a staged version of Presley's landmark 1968 comeback concert, which re-introduced a nation of fans to the sexualized, edgy and downright interesting Elvis that years of whoring his talents in stupid movies had diluted.

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