Dutchman by LeRoi Jones

Dutchman by LeRoi Jones starring Julian Austin and Jenn O’Brien at Anthony Meindl Theater, Hollywood.

Leo Rising Theatre Company doesn’t shy away from tough subject matter. Their newest production, the stylized one- act, Dutchman by LeRoi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka) delves into the wickedness of racism and the ugliness of white supremacy culture in the soulless underbelly of New York City’s subway system, hurling toward destination unknown.

When Clay, a sharply dressed, well-educated young black man encounters Lula, an alluring though neurotic white woman on a subway train, he’s equal parts put off and intrigued. She immediately intrudes his personal space demanding his attention. She’s flirtatious and forward, taunting and seducing him, weaving a web of sexually charged fantasy. He’s naively attracted to her, or at least the idea of her. As Lula’s behavior becomes more erratic, her commentary becomes more overtly racist. She questions Clay’s personhood and proceeds to mock and degrade him. Clay deflects and Lula escalates her attack- almost to the point of insanity. As Clay struggles to maintain composure in the face of his fangs-bared oppressor, he’s afforded no support, no kindness or compassion by anyone on the train. Some even join in the pointed and racially motivated brutality as sport and all are complicit in his demise.

Director Bryan Keith narrows focus on the unraveling relationship between Clay and Lula, carefully peeling back the layers and tapping into both character’s underlying rage. His staging straightforward and clean. Keith has a solid understanding of the play’s constantly shifting dynamics and finds the play’s internal rhythm through the ebb and flow of the dialogue. Conversely, Keith does little to explore the effect the external environment has on the story.

Julian Austin finds an unassuming and naïve Clay. He’s inherently likable and sweet but he never fully gives in to the confusion and disorientation of the character experiences throughout the play. His final speech is explosive and charged. Jenn O’Brien’s Lula is coquettish and coy. She keeps the character’s actions close to the chest and seems apprehensive to wade into the sludge of the character’s reprehensible actions- but the uglier she is, the more intriguing she becomes. She leans into character’s erratic behavior but there’s more to be mined beneath the surface. The interaction by the train passengers is strangely generic; they have such blithe, desensitized reactions to verbal and physical violence that feels like a scene from The Twilight Zone. Klenn Harrigan makes a memorable 11th hour cameo as the Young Man.

Costume design by Kristine Wheeler is ambiguously contemporary and offers little by way of defining character, place or time. Well-placed intimacy and fight direction by Jen Albert. Lighting design by Ray Jones adds a much-needed sense of momentum. Warm, muted swaths of light constantly sweep through the scene as a reminder of a story-in-motion. Carter Dean’s sound design offers a sample of the potential that sound has in defining the play’s environment. That the underlying and ever-present sounds of a subway train are largely absent is a missed opportunity.

Dutchman premiered at The Cherry Lane Theatre in 1964, a tense time for race relations in America. There remains a timeless quality to the story; Lula’s racist tendencies bubble beneath the surface; the result of ingrained, institutionalized racism that builds into a brutal act of violence- with the compliance and assistance of the passersby. It’s vicious. It’s enraging. But Dutchman’s pointed, no holds barred commentary on the perils of being a black man in America is worth your time and attention.

Anthony Meindl Theater, 905 Cole Ave., Hollywood. Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m. For tickets or more information please visit IG @leorisingtheatreco or email leorisingtheatreco@gmail.com. Running time: 1 hour with no intermission.

This production has been EXTENDED through August 21st, 2022.

A Terrible Show for Terrible People

Bonnie He stars in A Terrible Show for Terrible People as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Bonnie He is terrible in all the greatest ways and her latest one woman, two-word clown show is terrible for all the right reasons. She approaches the form tenderly and follows by a packed punch. A Terrible Show for Terrible People is rife with raunchy sweetness and gross sincerity and He is only too happy to oblige.

He’s performance unabashedly celebrates and elevates her own uniqueness; her fantastically warped sense of humor is fun and lighthearted. She has no problem letting the audience digest her specific brand of comedy, as uncomfortable as it may be. She fists flowers. She licks the toilet bowl. She has quite the entangled relationship with a pickle. All outrageous and, thanks to He’s sincerity, perfectly acceptable.

There’s a lot of audience interaction throughout the evening and all in good fun. He takes care of her unwitting (though never unwilling) partners, even when she’s performing a labor/ nearly postpartum lap dance. He’s at her funniest when she’s receiving the audience response completely, allowing letting them become the comedians through their unplanned reactions, which she does with relative ease. Her first moments onstage are her strongest because she’s at most vulnerable while allowing the audience truly see her. This is before the toilet licking and pickle fucking, of course. She’s funny and endearing regardless.

He keeps the technical elements simple in classic (and necessary) Fringe fashion. Her costume is clever; at one point she pairs a bra and panties over a black body suit to great comedic effect. The show does rely heavily on props but the performance isn’t weighted down by the common pitfall of too much stuff onstage.

Bonnie He may only speak two full words during the evening but she isn’t short on expression – or connection. A Terrible Show for Terrible People is raunchy, sick, stupid and sweetly silly. That doesn’t sound so terrible to me.

This award-winning show was a part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival with a final encore performance on July 17th.

For more information, please visit: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/6450

Noor Inayat Khan: The Forgotten Spy

Almanya Narula stars in Noor Inayat Khan: The Forgotten Spy at the Broadwater Black Box, Hollywood.

Artist/Playwright Almanya Narula’s newest work shines a light on an unlikely hero. Noor Inayat Khan, a descendent of Indian royalty and a pacifist, joins the French resistance of Nazi occupation as a spy. Noor Inayat Khan:The Forgotten Spy is the story of an extraordinary woman’s grit, courage and savage loyalty in the face of evil.

1943, Nazi occupied France. Noor Inayat Khan has been captured and tortured after being discovered as a spy and wireless operator under Churchill’s orders. Inayat Khan had long maintained her cover by being written off as clumsy and simple-minded, meanwhile liberating many through her covert and extraordinarily dangerous operations. But when a petty betrayal leads her into the hands of the Gestapo, Inayat Khan is faced with an impossible decision: capitulate or disappear without a trace. Her story unfolds in a small, crowded interrogation room in the moments leading up to her anticipated confession; a dangerous, suffocating environment and Inayat Khan’s prospects are grim. Her life and freedom hang in the balance.

Co-directors Mehr Kaur and Meghna Chakraborty create a complete world with meticulous attention to detail. The direction is well-paced, restrained and specific. The production’s soundscape fills in the space providing dramatic tension and the suggestion of a dangerous, foreboding environment. Violence is apparent (though not explicit), both in the obvious recent beating received by Inayat Khan by her captors and the not-so-far-off sounds of airplanes and gunfire. The creative use of lighting adds additional layer of danger.

Narula’s performance often conveys a cinematic quality. She is so completely in control of the performance that the character’s twists and turns are calculated and well curated. She smolders and conveys a world of feeling through the focused restraint of a close-up.

Noor Inayat Khan: The Forgotten Spy is a memorable, thoughtful piece of theatre about a woman resisted peacefully, courageously and for a singular purpose. Noor Inayat Khan sacrificed her life for the French resistance and maintained her dignity and the ability to control her own narrative. Even in her ultimate defeat she’s victorious in the face of overwhelming evil; her spirit unbreakable and her will unwavering.


This award-winning production was a part of the 2022 Hollywood Fringe Festival and will be returning to the Broadwater Black Box for additional encore performances in August.

For more information, please visit: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7519.

Lvl 1 Gygax: Of Branch, Of Beast, Of Beatnik

Written and performed by Dan Lovato aka Pastiche Queen.

Performance artist Dan Lovato aka Pastiche Queen runs the game. Their newest work, Lvl 1 Gygax: Of Branch, Of Beast, Of Beatnik weaves many stories together in a way that’s moving and masterful.

The audience is drawn into Lovato’s world before the play formally begins. They’re already present on stage as the audience enters, moving in a way that’s curious and extremely specific. The first half of the piece establishes the origin story of Dungeons and Dragons, a collaborative storytelling game that uses dice, pen and paper and unlimited imagination, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974. The play’s second half boldly deviates from Lovato’s previously established structure and into slam poetry before returning to reveal Gygax’ fate; his final role of the dice.

Lovato embodies Gygax and Arneson, along with a myriad of other fantastical creatures, with dexterity and precision. They explore themes of mental health, friendship, love, speaking one’s truth and finding one’s voice, intertwining fantastical worlds together with the steadying hand of the best Dungeon Master. They include the audience in the story in a way that’s kind and unexpectedly personal. The writing is clever, concise and thoughtful and they strike at the heart of the story while leaving plenty of room for wonder and curiosity. It’s nothing short of magical.

Lovato uses sound as another character in their story. Pink Floyd’s music largely scores the piece and is used to great effect throughout. Lighting design by Greg Crafts makes the most out of the small Studio/Stage space and elevates an already excellent show.

Lvl 1 Gygax: Of Branch, Of Beast, Of Beatnik is an epic, fantastical journey that is so much more than an origin story. Gygax and Arneson have influenced the fantasy genre as we know it and Lovato takes great inspiration from these master storytellers. Lovato’s ability to craft a world through text and physical embodiment is a gift and a necessity; the world needs storytellers like them more than ever.

Long live Pastiche Queen.

This award-winning production is part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Final encore performance:  July 10th at 5 p.m. at Studio/Stage, Hollywood.

 For more information or to reserve tickets, please visit: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7418

Battlesong of Boudica

Battlesong of Boudica at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

The School of Night’s latest incarnation, Battlesong of Boudica, literally kicks ass. The story follows a savage woman who has been robbed of life and dignity seeking bloody revenge. In light of current events here in the U.S.; the unceremonious stripping of women’s fundamental rights, the story’s extreme violence and expression of righteous anger feels cathartic and justified.

Britannia, 61 A.D. War Chief Prasutagus (Tony Kim) and his consort, Boudica (Jen Albert), are in turmoil. In light of the internal and external discord on their island of Britannia, fierce War Chief Prasutagus forges a shaky alliance with occupying Roman forces, attempting to maintain his people’s freedom. When he’s killed in battle, Boudica and her daughters Kerma (Lucy Schmidt) and Brenda (Allegra Rodriguez Shivers) attempt to defend their home from thieves only to be savagely brutalized. Desperate and enraged, Boudica takes up the mantle of War Chief and seeks bloody revenge for her people, her family, herself.

Playwright/Director Christopher William Johnson finds a fully realized world through imaginative staging and acute attention to detail. He gets the most out of an impressively large cast by using all of his resources and the entirety of the playing space. His writing is elevated and clearly structured. Kate Coleman’s dance choreography adds a sense of unity and preparation for bloody battle. Costume designer Linda Muggeridge finds clear differentiation between opposing sides but some of the costumes are ill fitting and prove a hinderance for the massive physical requirements of the show. Chloe Madriaga shines as the evening’s percussionist, adding nuance and trepidation to each scene and impending battle.

Jen Albert’s Boudica is fierce and unapologetic, oscillating between her masculine and feminine energies and striking a fascinating balance between them. Albert is also the show’s fight choreographer and she commands each sequence with mastery. The most interesting moments of her performance happen when watching she’s dealing with defeat. The cast makes a valiant effort sustaining the massive amount of energy required for the performance, both physically and emotionally, but many of the fight sequences were slowed down as the cast struggles to maintain the required energetic output. The comradery and the support of one another through the show’s multiple fight and dance sequences, is fabulous and worth the price of admission.

 Battlesong… was produced as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival and closed in Sunday, June 26th.  The production faced many obstacles and producers were forced to postpone their opening twice due to COVID-19. The cast and creatives overcame every single setback and won several awards offered by the festival, including Best Drama. The show closed on Sunday with the conclusion of this year’s Fringe Festival but the possibility of a future run of Battlesong of Boudica looms large.

For more information, please visit: http://schoolofnight.org/.

The Toughest Man in Chicago

Mitchell Bisschop stars in The Toughest Man in Chicago at the Actor’s Company.

Writer/Performer Mitchell Bisschop’s love for Chicago is palpable and so is his love for the theatre. His embodiment of the quick-witted, tough skinned Chicago columnist Mike Royko is a celebration of both. The Toughest Man in Chicago is a love letter to the city of Chicago, and a testament to Royko’s enduring legacy.

Mike Royko is a Chicago legend. He was a columnist for the Chicago Daily News (and later the Chicago Tribune) from the mid 50’s to the mid 90’s; a turbulent period of time for the city of Chicago as well as the nation. In is 34 years as a newspaper columnist, Royko wrote over 7,500 columns, winning a Pulitzer Prize for his work in 1972. Royko’s job was to offer nuanced opinion to the public and he never failed to deliver; a master of explaining facts through story and perspective. He once said, “Facts don’t always come together to create the truth.”

He wasn’t afraid to publicly point out the transgressions of powerful figures, from movie stars to politicians. He made an enemy of Frank Sinatra by making pointed public observations about Sinatra’s security measures. Sinatra famously penned (and copyrighted!) an indignant rebuttal to Royko, shamelessly saving face against Royko’s claims. Royko was the number one adversary of Mayor Richard Daley for the duration of Daley’s tenure from 1955 until his death in 1976. He sharply criticized the lack of gun control and shined a light on racism and police brutality, heavily covering the 1968 Race Riots. He relentlessly lambasted the Chicago Cubs. In his twilight years, Royko sponsored a Ribfest in the city of Chicago, bringing him closer than ever to the people he championed for so long, communing over a mutual love of B.B.Q.

Bisschop finds a fully realized, well-rounded character in Royko. He has Royko’s cadence and physical embodiment in spades. But Bisschop truly shines when he relinquishes Royko’s gritty cynicism, if even momentarily, revealing the inner workings of a kind hearted and deeply concerned man. Bisschop also plays Studs Terkel, a friend of Royko who serves as the story’s narrator as a bit of a caricature, layering a style onto the piece that removes a some of the play’s grittiness and bite.

The writing briefly touches on Royko’s personal history, putting his tough exterior into perspective, but the majority of the story remains focused on Royko’s career and public persona. Use of multi-media does well to highlight notable Chicago history during Royko’s tenure, adding richness and visual complexity to the evening. There’s a lot of shifting between media and live action throughout, which works for the most part, supported by Bisschop who works hard to cultivate and maintain the appropriate drive and intensity while bridging the gap between media and live performance. Director Matt Pardue struggles with the play’s overall pace as the excessive use of blackouts slow the story down considerably.

Mike Royko relentlessly stood up for the little guy. He was exactly who the city needed at exactly the right moment in time. He was funny, kind, caring and deeply human, unafraid of controversy and he used his voice to tell the truth. The Toughest Man in Chicago celebrates his achievement and his humanity.

This production was a part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Encore performances July 1st and 2nd at 9 p.m. https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7567

My Name is Thileepan

Ahash Francis in My Name is Thileepan at The Actor’s Company.

Writer/Performer Ahash Francis summons the spirit of revolution through a compelling young leader in his one person show, My Name is Thileepan at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Sri Lanka, 1987. Civil war has just broken out and Thiyagi Thileepan, 23 year old revolutionary leader of the Tamil Tigers, lives and dies by his convictions. When 5 demands he proposed on behalf of the Tamil people are not acknowledged by the Indian government, Thileepan stages a hunger strike in non-violent protest.

Thileepan is Francis’ personal hero and his admiration and respect for him is palpable throughout, as is his love for Sri Lanka and the Eelam Tamil people. Francis establishes a personal connection with the audience by entering the space as himself, summoning the spirit of Thileepan through dance. Thileepan arrives reluctantly; skeptical of a place like Hollywood (fair), but agrees to allow Francis to help him tell his story.

Francis is in constant conversation with Thileepan, questioning him about his life and convictions, encouraging him to tell his story. Francis moves between personas well enough but the shifts get frantic at times, losing clarity. Francis is most vibrant and connected to the story through movement and dance sequences. There’s depth and nuance to be mined in Francis’ embodiment of Thileepan in moments of weakness and physical deterioration. Set, sound and costumes are bright and lively, functional and thoughtful.

Thiyagi Thileepan died in the early days of revolution. Sri Lanka endured 36 years of violence until the Tamil Tigers surrendered in 2009 after genocide killed over 80,000 Tamils, another 200,000 Tamils still unaccounted for. There are over a million refugees worldwide. But Thileepan’s legacy endures. He held true to his morals, sacrificing his life for the freedom of his people, an incredible act of loyalty and courage. My Name is Thileepan has much potential and plenty of room for further exploration and it’s certainly a story worth being told.

What About Dad?

Jamald Gardner stars in What About Dad? at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre.

Jamald Gardner is a great Dad, impassioned by his love and commitment to his son. Through his very personal solo performance What About Dad?, writer/performer Gardner delivers a message of support to men and for men, specifically single Dads. The way Gardner tells the story is totally inclusive.

The story is told through a series of shorts scenes. Gardner explores several characters; all single fathers in widely varying circumstances. One is trying to navigate social services after a surprise divorce left him needing additional support. Another is a bereaved widow navigating life and raising children after losing his wife prematurely. Gardner narrates the piece through voiceover and the last scene is his personal message, one of love and encouragement. He encourages all men to practice feeling and expressing emotion freely and allow themselves to be vulnerable without shame.

Direction by Courtney Nichole is crisp and organized. Nichole uses the space effectively, establishing several different environments in a very small playing space. The use of music throughout is pitch perfect.

Gardner lays out a clear and subtly compelling premise that centers around a Dad’s point of view. The outcome is not only an excellent display of Gardner’s acting ability but also a well-deserved pat on the back and a source of encouragement to the dads and father figures out there doing their best.


From 0 to 25

Hector Zapata and Zachary Hart star in From 0 to 25 at Howard Fine Studios.

It starts with a hookup and a secret. Typical. From 0 to 25, written by Hector Zapata, explores the complexity of dating, hooking up and love relationships. 

Uziel has a secret, one that took him years come to terms with himself. While he’s confident with who he is in life, a would-be hookup helps him to reflect on past relationships in order to learn more about himself. But Uziel has done this many times before. Will #25 will be different?

Zachary Hart does the heavy lifting by playing several of Uziel’s past lovers; 2, 10, 24 and 25 respectively. Hart finds clear physical distinction between each and is certainly the highlight of the evening. Hector Zapata’s Uziel is sweet but conflicted. Zapata’s emotional expression is bound at times which restricts his freedom of physical expression.

Dan Lovato’s direction uses efficient transitions that are largely dependent on the actors to specify, which they do. They use the space effectively, helping the actors to find emotional expression through physical contact. Sound design, also by Lovato, adds much to the story by identifying the environment, though the actors sometimes compete to be heard.

There are some logistical discrepancies throughout the play which muddy the effectiveness of jumping backward and forward through time. The dialogue is often weighted down by exposition rather than present conflict. Zapata periodically finds elegance and prose within the dialogue.

Love is always available and comes in all shapes, sizes and personas. From 0 to 25 has a healthy perspective of who, exactly is worthy of love.