Lester Bangs' Punk Rock Soul Gets Awakened in a One-Man Play

Categories: Theater

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YouTube
Lester Bangs
"Why the hell should anybody give a crap about some rock critic who died over 30 years ago?"

It felt like the type of sarcastic question that the ghost of Lester Bangs might've opened with if he were sitting across from the actor charged with portraying him on stage. Had he been alive today, the idea that his life would be anything worth writing about in a play would probably feel strange to him. There's a brief pause on the other end of the phone during a conversation with Erik Jensen, the man who co-wrote and stars as Bangs in the one-man production How to Be a Rock Critic. You can almost feel his wooly mustache bristling before he smirks and fires back an equally sarcastic answer.

"I dunno, why the hell does anyone give a crap about Shakespeare?"

It feels odd that this rebuttal could hold some truth in the modern era of journalism or just writing in general. Really? A jaded, roguish, rock-n-roll slob banging away on a typewriter in an apartment cluttered with records above a New York Chinese restaurant in the '70s had something in common with the Englishmen who wrote Hamlet? To a lot of people, the answer is yes.

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R.I.P. Curtis Jerome: One of OC Theater's Brightest Lights

Categories: Culture, Theater

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Chuck Roberts
Curtis Jerome
Last weekend, Curtis Jerome, the director of Les Miserables at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton, had to step into a key ensemble role after the original actor fell ill. By all accounts, he nailed it on very short study.

It's hard to fathom, but Jerome's presence will be felt even deeper during this weekend's closing shows, as the 50-year-old passed away Tuesday after injuries sustained in a car accident on Memorial Day. It is a tremendous personal loss to Jerome's family and friends, who opened up on Facebook after news of his death--as well as at least one affecting blog. And it's an enormous professional loss to the Maverick, as the company's wave of musical theater successes the past six years were in large part due to the incredible range of talents possessed by Jerome.


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In This Play, The Revolution Will Be Theatricalized

Categories: Culture, Theater

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True Image Studio
Marina Michelson and David Carl Golbeck
It's almost quaint to see smart and passionate politically-minded people talking in 1999 about how the new century and the end of the Cold War would re-orient America back toward issues of civil liberties and racial equality. Unfortunately, a couple of buildings soon toppled, we had a new enemy and, 16 years later, the Patriot Act is still in force and you apparently can't lob a loogie in this country without it hitting some cop killing a black guy.

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Lots of Roar in Mr. Wolf, But is There Much Bite?

Categories: Culture, Theater

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Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.
Tessa Auberjonois, Jon Tenney, Emily James and John de Lancie in Mr. Wolf
Rajiv Joseph is a playwright making a lot of noise in American theater. The 40-year-old (who served in the Peace Corps in Senegal for three years and what have YOU done with your miserable life?) was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize with his Benghal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which starred the late, great Robin Williams in its Broadway run. And while one can argue over whether a distinction like that truly merits respect (isn't it possible that some years, plays just suck?) as Southern California's most prolific, and terrifically curmudgeonly critic, Tony Frankel wrote last year, there's no denying that theaters love producing his work, as his plays have been mounted at a score of top theaters across the country and he has two world premieres this spring, one next month at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York City, and Mr. Wolf, commissioned by South Coast Repertory.

Based on the tight and taut work, it's clear that Joseph has a strong and unique voice. What isn't so clear is whether he has that much of interest to say. Some of that in Mr. Wolf may lie in the fact that he's not interested in delivering answers. He's just asking questions--more than 400 according to the program. Those questions range from the first principle of ancient astronomy to why people get divorced, and most of them are posed by Emily James (a current theater student at Cal State Fullerton in a leading role at a professional theater, and if you're a current college student, what are YOU doing with your life?), a 15-year-old who, after her abduction at age 3, has never interacted with another human other than her abductor, a mysterious Mr. Wolf (John DeLance). It begins and ends with questions and along the way are heady issues of God and existence, probed against the backdrop of child abduction and the junction between astronomy and metaphysics.

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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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