Imagofest 2011 at Stella Adler Theatre

As far as themes are concerned, the three One-Acts chosen this year for the newly formed Stella Adler Los Angeles Theatre Collective are diverse in style but connected in a through-line that works well, whether intentionally or not. Focusing on dysfunctional relationships, the three plays show the different range of writers that this collective focuses upon. For one thing, the plays are definitely not fully developed, even as One-Acts. Still, it’s a great showcase for the writers and actors that come out of this collective. It’s strength is in the slow build-up from first to final play.

“Red Poppies” by Timothy McNeil develops a tender relationship between Iris (Zulivet Diaz) and Abbott (Chervine Namani.) She’s a bit mentally unstable, but as the play develops, you understand why that is so: she was raped a few years ago. It’s not clear whether Abbott was also violated by the soldiers along with Iris, but they both share a common brutality that leaves them scarred. The play takes a while to develop and the horror that these two characters face isn’t fully realized. The grim nature of their meeting (her father’s funeral) adds a level of morbidity, but fails to fully connect with the main theme.

In “Cyclical Conversations to Nowhere,” by Alex Aves, the relationship is less defined, assigning numbers to characters rather than names, perhaps suggesting the universal themes of their dilemma. A (Meghan Cox) and B (Erik Adrian Santiago) explores the dynamic between male and female relationship, but less successfully than the first play. The characters meander through what appear to be existentialist ramblings and thoughts spoken out loud. It is obvious that their relationship is in trouble, but there’s never a true connection between A or B that engages the audience. It’s a great exercise for a writer to explore major themes, but the characters serve as mere mouthpieces for big thoughts that are probably better suited for an experimental shorter piece.

The final play, “Mother’s Day” is probably the tightest and most engaging of the three One-Acts. Mark Donnelly’s script is not perfect but it definitely shows an understanding of the One-Act structure. This black comedy examines the disconnection between family members. Melody (Susan Vinciotti Bonito) obsesses about her lost dog and is clueless about the goings-on in her home. Her husband Ron (Jon Boatwright) has to remind her that she even has children while she demands to know exactly how many. Their daughter Becky (Francesca Fondevila), a cheerleader is preoccupied with getting the right cheer down and is probably the only one in the family trying to connect with anyone else at home. On the other hand, their son Danny (Chris Petrovski) just wants to get some sleep.


Lavender Love at Macha Theatre in West Hollywood

Odalys Nanin’s new one act play Lavender Love isn’t trying to raise any brows or even push the gay agenda any further than a campy journey to the excessiveness of the 1920s Hollywood lifestyle.

Nanin has taken Susan Sontag’s original definition of camp, laying out the artifice, frivolity, and naïve middle-class pretentiousness and reducing it to mere triviality without much of a commentary. It’s a missed opportunity for the gay community to gain a bit more insight into its own history, which has many holes yet to be filled.

By exploring gay relationships in the context of a previous era when it was necessary to conceal one’s homosexuality by taking up these “lavender marriages,” the play promises an exploration into a practice still perpetuated in Hollywood by some. However, arguing the politics of it is irrelevant in light of the play presented here.

It is New Year’s Eve 2011 and Alas Nin (Lidia Ryan) has stolen some Chicken McNuggets from the McDonald’s on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. A security guard (O’Neil Cespedes) takes pity on her: she has no money and has just broken up with her girlfriend Evie Raven (Michelle Bernard).

The guard reveals an underground hiding place where she can take refuge from the cops. In reality, it is a trap door located in the long forgotten location of the Garden of Allah. Reluctantly, Alas goes into hiding and finds herself transported back to the 1920s where she comes face to face with silent film stars Alla Nazimova (Nanin) and Rudolph Valentino (Kristian Steel).

In her displaced daze, she is offered a starring role in Nazmova’s next film, much to her protégé and lover, Natasha’s (Stephanie Ann Saunders) dismay. Still, Alas misses her girlfriend back in 2011/2012. Her sole connection to her own time is her iPhone, which astonishingly still works. She places a call to Evie, a sexy Puerto Rican woman with a bad accent and a case of perpetual flatulence (the reason for the break-up.) In the end, the Mayan calendar, a tsunami, earthquakes, and the Island of California all coalesce around an implausible happy ending.

Beyond this précis, the less said about plot and story the better. What we’re left with is more questions about the development of this script than a discussion about the issues that this play brings up. Lavender love/marriage is only touched on in name only, but never explored. The real-life historical characters read like caricatures. Any research done to develop them feels like it was done by cursory glance at the mini-bios on IMDB.

There is just enough flash of breast, a scantily clad Valentino, and Paul Ivano (Drew Hinckley) in a thong to satisfy what seems to be the core audience at which this play aims. The dramatic conflict is as thin as the fart joke in the play. One has to wonder, watching this play, if there’s more to lesbian or gay love than just sex; that seems to be what drive these characters. Where is the great passion of these artists that gave them the capacity to love greatly – was it really all just sex? Doubtful.

It is almost pointless to talk about performances given the nature of the play. Ryan stumbles around the stage in a daze of confusion that isn’t dictated by her character’s own confusion. The same can be said for most of the cast as well, though Nanin seems to have a clear idea of Nazimova’s arc, after all, she wrote the play.

Unfortunately, she neglected to help the rest of the cast discover theirs. The breakout performance, however, belongs to Saunders. Even with the minimal lines she’s given, she makes her character as focused as possible, providing actual comedy from her performance rather than from the one liners that consistently fall flat throughout the play.

Coincidentally, Woody Allen’s new romantic comedy which opens in Los Angeles and New York this weekend, Midnight in Paris, explores the same concept and themes as this play, even visiting the same time period to explain the nature of flawed relationships romanticized by nostalgic and selective remembrances of Golden Ages past.

In the end, though, Nanin is not interested in mixing bawdy comedy and introspection about gay sex at the cusp of the second decade of the new millennium, though it can be done. Instead, a bad taste lingers in the palate as one walks out of the theatre, which leads out into the heart of West Hollywood.

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