Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: Naila Aladdin Sanders

“Yohen” at East West Players: Casting Spoils the Art

June Angela and Danny Glover in “Yohen” at East West Players

Eighteen years ago, Danny Glover and the late Nobu McCarthy shared the stage of East West Players in Philip Kan Gotanda’s “Yohen,” about the struggles of an couple coming to terms with the husband’s retirement after 37 years in the military. At that time Glover was 53, and the idea of him as a GI who married a girl he met while stationed in Japan a decade or so after World War II ended, when he was still seen there – as the character’s wife explains – as part of the conquering army, made sense.

Now “Yohen” is on stage at East West Players again, in a joint production with The Robey Theatre Company. The play’s title references the Japanese term for an accident during the firing of a ceramic, where ash scars and unintended cracks appear on the piece making it either more interesting or destined for the trash. Here it serves as a metaphor for a long and complex intercultural marriage the play examines.

For reasons one cannot quite figure, Glover is again playing James, the husband in this two-person performance. Now he is in his 70s, and looks it. He struggles with lines and with the physicality of the character, who is rediscovering himself by boxing with potential Golden Gloves contenders at a local gym. The idea that this man only recently stepped away from a career in the military, at the pay grade that he claims to represent, is nonsensical. And that is really too bad, as the play deserves better.

So does June Angela, who plays Sumi, James’ Japanese wife. She should be balancing the bombast and physicality with a cultural reticence which should be allowed to begin to show cracks and ash, just as the pots the character creates do. Sometimes she even gets to do that, and show a genuine craft open to appreciation. Unfortunately, much of the time she is left to try to figure out when to interject into Glover’s repetitive, sometimes gasping lines of dialogue, giving the sense that the lines she would normally respond to aren’t always there.

Director Ben Guillory has done what he can to make this very talky, and rather episodic tale hang together. Naila Aladdin Sanders has provided a fascinating set, which when combined with Michael Ricks’ lighting, sets tonal changes and provides fascinating interludes between scenes. Still, polished as this production is, it can’t compensate for Glover’s performance.

Playwright Gotanda is one of the strongest voices in the Asian-American play-writing community, and this particular play’s examination of the struggles of an interracial and intercultural couple, on and off of military bases, who came together in the very early 60s, has a lot to say about marriage, about identity and self-worth, the lies we tell ourselves to keep moving forward. The question mark of its ending should leave one touched and pondering.

So, again, the biggest question in all of this is “Why?”. Why have a person who does not fit the character play one character in a two-person play? Perhaps having a major star in the piece will be a draw, and help pay the bills. Perhaps. But it doesn’t do Angela, Gotanda or even Glover service to have done so.

What: “Yohen” When: Through November 19, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday Where: East West Players, 120 Judge John Aiso St. in Los Angeles How Much: $40 – $60 Info: (213) 625-7000 or http://www.eastwestplayers.org

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“6 Rms Riv Vu” in Sierra Madre: a classic comedy brings modern insights

Jeremy Guskin (l.) and Lena Bouton (r.) deal with Lynndi Scott as the lady across the hall in "6 Rms Riv Vu" in Sierra Madre [photo: Gina Long]

Jeremy Guskin (l.) and Lena Bouton (r.) deal with Lynndi Scott as the lady across the hall in “6 Rms Riv Vu” in Sierra Madre [photo: Gina Long]

There comes a point, with older works of theater, when they stop being “dated” and start being a window on another time. When that happens, they can provide insightful views of the differences and most engagingly the similarities between the work’s era and our own. This is obvious with truly classic works – Shakespeare, Moliere, even Oscar Wilde. In our fast-changing world it also rings true for plays and musicals only a few decades old.

As example, the production of “6 Rms Riv Vu”, Bob Randall’s Tony-winning play from 1972. Now in a fine production at Sierra Madre Playhouse, it looks back at the people whose lives overlapped the societal mores of two distinct periods, who are thus forced to find balance in the midst of very mixed messages. As ethical values continue to shift today, it offers a chance to stop and think.

The play – most definitely a comedy – centers on two people, Anne Miller and Paul Friedman, who find themselves locked in a rent-controlled New York apartment they’ve both been sent by spouses to check out and possibly rent. As time passes, they begin to share vulnerabilities: their sense of incompleteness in their married lives, their sense of disquiet at their own lack of adventure, and fairly soon their mutual attraction.

What makes the play worth watching is what they do with the information they glean, as played out by a somewhat young, but interesting cast. Jeremy Guskin feels natural as Paul: a bit geeky, a bit henpecked, a bit startled by his own bravado. Lena Bouton brings to Anne that settled housewife aura, but with the undercurrent of resistance to patronization and frustration at her own “goodness” showing through.

Lynndi Scott all but steals the show as the obtuse lady across the hall. Bob Rodriguez gives the perfect “operating on autopilot” maintenance man – the instigator of the leads getting stuck in the first place. In cameo roles, Kristin Towers-Rowles vibrates with energy as Paul’s feminist wife, Craig EcEldowney hums with paternalistic attitude as Anne’s businessman husband, and Jull Maglione and Albert Garnica provide the play’s bookends as an expectant couple also checking out the apartment.

Director Sherri Lofton gives the play a relaxed, yet intense pacing and enough movement to keep an essentially two-person piece from devolving into a static debate. John Vertrees’ set design makes the small SMP stage look like a reasonably-sized apartment, which is quite a feat. The costuming by Naila Aladdin Sanders pretty much nails the polyester double-knit look of the era. The authenticity greatly enhances the experience.

As a result, “6 Rms Riv Vu” has much to recommend it: it’s funny, well acted, well produced, and has something quite specific to say, which is still worth listening to. It’s also funny in the way of the best comedies of that era: jokes at just the time when the tale would otherwise become painful, yet still making a “truth” available under the laughter.

This is the start of a new era for the Sierra Madre Playhouse, as they embrace a new board and a new artistic director. The focus is obviously quality, and the shaking off of the “community theater” label. So far, so good

What: “6 Rms Riv Vu” When: Through September 6, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays Where: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre How Much: (standard pricing) $25 general, $22 seniors, $15 children 12 and under (NOTE: general and senior tickets purchased in July for any performance between now and the end of the run will be on a special: $19.72 – the date of the play) Info: (626) 355-4318 or http://www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

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