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“Inside the Box”

by Lisa Lyons, American Theatre Critics Association member

Apart from being known as one of the best regional theaters in the country, the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles was one of the first local venues to successfully attack live entertainment by COVID-19. The first production, the Frank Marshall-directed “The Present,” starring master prestidigitator and performer Helmer Guimaraes, allowed the show’s compact staging to easily transition to the Zoom platform. While it sounded risky, it actually brought audience members into even more intimacy with the star and the unique story of art, love, memory and card tricks.

The latest production from the Geffen, “Inside the Box,” is even better suited to the live stream format as its entire concept is based on boxes — grids, squares and puzzles. The world-premiere production from writer and performer David Kwong is described as an exhilarating glimpse into the world of games. Kwong is one of the crossword puzzle constructors at the New York Times, the gold standard for puzzle fans worldwide. With a combination of keen insight, sly wit and personal history, the affable Kwong displays his knowledge of the subject without ever sounding like a puzzle wonk…well, almost never.

Twenty-four guests all have a front-row seat in the evening’s entertainment and in the Zoom proscenium, resemble a slightly whack “Hollywood Squares” episode. When you purchase your ticket for the show, you receive a package a day or two before the performance with interactive props and instructions for your participation. In between solving puzzles, Kwong regales the crowd with stories of the most celebrated puzzle makers throughout history while letting his audience create their own moments of head-scratching joy.  

Even if you aren’t a puzzle fan, this 85-minute long peek into the world of words and wordplay is vastly entertaining, and you actually get to share that “communal experience” that live theatre provides. Some participants eagerly raised their hands when they had solved a particular clue, while others never said a word but doggedly stayed the course, mostly due to the star’s pun-kish humor and charm. “Jeopardy” producers, are you listening? He’d make a perfect host someday, and I’m sure his mother would agree.

The show has proven so successful that it has been extended beyond the initial run; the show is sold out through January 3, 2021, but additional dates are being added. The Geffen is also offering five $25 Mobile Rush tickets at each performance on a first-come, first-served basis. More information on tickets can be found on the website at www.geffenplayhouse.org.

The Geffen has just announced its upcoming three-play “virtual season,” and I can hardly wait to join in the magic.


By Jack Lyons Theatre and Movie Critic

The La Jolla Playhouse (LJP) has a terrific track record when it comes to producing plays that have binary production values.  By that I mean their first priority is always to the loyal subscription-based audiences. 

However, the by-product or bonus in their play season’s selections and productions under the aegis of savvy artistic director Christopher Ashley, always provides a road map toward New York and Broadway when warranted. Their trophy case attests to their many awards for excellence.

Many of Mr. Ashley’s directing productions include: “Memphis”, a red hot musical that successfully made the leap from La Jolla to Broadway running for three years nabbing two Tony wins for Best Musical, and for Outstanding Director of a Musical, in the process.

In 2017, the heart-warming, inspirational “ 9/11” infused musical “Come From Away”, transferred its smash-hit La Jolla Playhouse production to Broadway; once again winning Tony Awards for Best Musical, with Mr. Ashley winning another Tony as Best Director.

There’s no doubt about it. Tony Awards are no strangers to the 73 year-old acclaimed La Jolla, California-based theatrical company founded in 1947 by Hollywood actor/stars Mel Ferrer, Dorothy McGuire, and Gregory Peck.

Which brings us to the latest La Jolla Playhouse production “Fly”, a new, visually stunning musical reimagining of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter and Wendy”, the popular and enduring children’s fantasy story about  adventures in a dream filled place called ‘Neverland’ where children never grow up into adulthood where each has the ability to fly (with caveats, however, that must be observed).

 All children have a secret desire to be able to fly, as do some adults (at least in our dreams).  In “Fly” it’s strictly a kid’s world forever… well, maybe not forever.  Remember, as Dorothy says in the Wizard of Oz “there’s no place like home Toto.”

I’ve seen at least four or so previous iterations of the “Peter Pan, Wendy, and Captain Hook” story over the years; beginning with the 1954 Mary Martin version through to this 2020 La Jolla Playhouse winning interpretation.   Comparisons are odious at best, however, every revival or reimagining brings a unique vision of the story to its audience.  Director Jeffrey Seller of “Fly”, stages his production as one that appeals to both children and adults by infusing his tale with a twist and an underlying celebration of the global feminist-movement.

Wendy becomes the protagonist while Peter is downgraded to a co-protagonist status with Hook remaining the antagonist. Hook now sports ‘mummy’s boy’ vs. complex societal issues.  Whether these changes alters the dramatic intention of Barries’ original story version remains to be seen. But hope springs eternal for the purists.

Although it’s a 21st century produced production, there’s nary a line of “questionable dialogue” to be heard. Rare these days from the pens of some playwrights and directors who are determined to break theatre decorum barriers in the name of ‘honesty and the reality in life’.  That being said, I don’t need to experience the reality of a ‘character’ suffering from diarrhea to actually display that action on stage or any other similar character traits in the name of ‘reality’ or ‘truth’; thank you very much.

When inevitable societal changes come, as they must, to audiences of all of the art forms, resistance on the part of the “purists” can be fierce. I’m sure there are some today who would prefer to see Shakespeare performed in an Arden-like forest setting as it was 500 hundred years ago.  They forget, however, that all of the roles then were performed by men.  It was English law in the era of the Divine Right of Kings. Thankfully those laws are no longer practiced or viable.  But we live in uncertain and perilous times. So stay tuned.

Today our diversity and gender-bending productions are still not fully embraced.  But they’re catching on especially, with much younger audiences. Diversity and gender-bending casting blessed us with Diane Venora performing as ‘Hamlet’ and most recently, the great English actor Dame Glenda Jackson at the tender age of 82, tackling ‘King Lear’.  Lear is arguably the most physically demanding of all of Shakespeare’s plays.  After all, the character of Lear is ‘crazy’ for most of the play.  Today’s medical analysis would probably say he is suffering from some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  It takes incredible stamina to perform the role over two and a half hours on stage night after night.

When “King Kong, the musical” debuted on Broadway in November 2018, I made a pact to review it with my Massachusetts-based theatre critic colleague Charles Giuliano, founder and editor of Berkshire Fine Arts website of which I am a contributing critic.

I was intrigued about how the producers of ‘King Kong’ were going to stage this legendary behemoth of the jungle.  The on-stage ‘Kong’ was a 2000 pound, 20 foot tall character/puppet that required a crew of seven to bring him to life every night.  The technical obstacles of the production were staggering, nonetheless, ‘Kong’ ran for nine months and it was jaw dropping in its execution.

My thought was to review the production from a ‘technical’ point of view on how the technical aspects enhanced the overall theatrical experience. Charles Giuliano’s thrust would cover the production from the performance assessment of the story adapationt, singers, dancers and actors.  We wrote two separate reviews that appeared in our separate publications.  Mine being the Desert Star Weekly in Palm Spring California as well as on desertlocalnews.com website. Mr. Giuliano’s appeared on Berkshire Fine Arts website, in Massachusetts.  Our collaborative efforts 3000 miles apart worked beautifully.

 The La Jolla Playhouse “Fly” production is also a marvel of how creative, skilled technicians can enhance the overall quality and enjoyment of a production by gifted artists. Theatre is a collaborative art form as we all know.  A successful endeavor be it a movie, TV series, a ballet, musicians in the symphony orchestra, or an  opera, in any of the accepted performing arts disciplines knows it “takes a village” to successfully pull it off. The painter and/or novelist and other solitary art form practitioners know they will need the services of that ‘village’ to pull it off later on.

“Fly” is a sensationally performed musical that encompasses all of the components necessary to transfer the show to Broadway; probably they were looking at an October 2020 or February 2021 opening.  The creative team boasts enough Tony-winning and Tony nominated artists with the energy and horse-power to field a Major League Baseball team. So another La Jolla Playhouse production had its creators packing their bags for Broadway following the LHP run and, then the coronavirus pandemic engulfed the entire globe.

As traditions and Budget considerations drive decisions when it comes to Broadway, there will always be creative changes to the incoming Broadway production.  Frankly, as colorful and satisfying as this production is, it’s somewhat over produced. There are a lot of visual pyrotechnics taking place that compete with the lyrics and the propulsive musical numbers and forward movement of the basic story; which can lead to disengagement on the part of an audience.  It’s also a tad too long.  Typical running time for Broadway musicals is about two hours; fifteen minutes.

These are fixable issues that director Seller and his creative team of: Librettist Rajiv Joseph, Composer Bill Sherman and Lyrists Kristen Childs and Rajiv Joseph will, no doubt, judiciously solve before opening night; whenever that takes place. Right now all theatre productions have been cancelled in California and New York, with more cities and states following suit weekly.

The Peter Pan-Wendy-Tinker Bell-Captain Hook story has been a children’s favorite since its debut more  115 years ago.  Multiple Tony-winning Director Jeffrey Seller is blessed with a cast of some twenty-five plus artists who dance, sing, and perform Andy Blankenbuehler and Stephanie Klemons’ flat-out sensational choreography to the hilt.

Principle performers like fetching Storm Lever as Wendy; an assured Lincoln Clauss as Peter Pan, have wonderful on-stage chemistry in their always in-the-moment performances whether ‘flying’ some twenty-five feet above the stage along with Isabelle McCalla as Tinker Bell, or fleeing from Eric Anderson as Captain Hook, and Nehal Joshi as his somewhat bumbling second-in-command Smee, plus a very boastful, but inept gang of pirates, make for many laughs and insights.

Director Seller also has his principles performing light-comedy turns instead of the nuanced darker sides of playwright Barries’ story that previous productions have mounted.  Liisi La Fontaine, in a strong performance as Crocodile, sports a creative, shimmering dress designed by Tony Award winning designer Paul Tazewell, who does the same costume magic for the ensemble dancers and the pirates.  Tony Award winner Howell Binkley’s lighting design allows to us appreciate the amazing aerial designs and choreography of Pichon Baldini, whose balletic-like moves for Wendy, Peter, Tinker Bell, seem natural in their execution of “flying”.  The Music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations are by Will Van Dyke.  The Scenic design is by Anna Louizos, with Sound Designs by Nevin Steinberg.

It’s a pity that all of this wonderful work and performances won’t be seen as scheduled. However, the health and safety of everyone, both audience and company of performers trumps any entertainment event until this COVID-19 pandemic nightmare memory for some, is declared over. If and when this impressive musical feast for the eyes and ears returns once again to perform at the La Jolla Playhouse, I urge you to attend.  For me this production is one of the most entertaining Wendy/Peter Pan/ Captain Hook productions I’ve seen in a long, long, time.

Remember… a great nation deserves great art.  Support the Arts.

All photos are by Kevin Berne.

Border Wall Plans Threaten Habitat of Endangered Arizona Ocelot


DOUGLAS, Ariz. — While there are plenty of arguments over whether a wall should be built along the U.S.-Mexico border, the issue has become life and death for the endangered Sonoran ocelot. 

Conservationists say a rare and wild ocelot was filmed by a remote sensor camera recently in an isolated area of Arizona. Robert Peters, senior representative with the Southwest office of Defenders of Wildlife, said the endangered cats range from the mountains of southeastern Arizona to northern Mexico, where most of the breeding pairs exist. 

“Conservationists have the dream that eventually there could be breeding populations again in the U.S.,” Peters said. “But if the border wall goes up, that’s the end of that.”

According to the group Conservation CATalyst, the recent video is the first publicly released trail camera views of an ocelot in his Arizona range. The shy cat has been seen intermittently in the region for several years.

Peters said the only remaining areas where ocelots range in the U.S. are in Arizona and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
He said ocelots use their spotted coat as camouflage when they migrate to stay clear of humans.

“In particular, some of the more mountainous areas are still open, and those are typically where the cats travel because there aren’t a lot of people and there’s good cover,” he explained. “So, they tend to come up in the mountain areas.”

Peters said while Sonoran ocelots could be one step closer to extinction if a wall with no breaks is built, the cats also face direct threats from poaching, poisoning, collisions with vehicles and other disturbances in the border region.

“The fact that these incredibly rare, beautiful animals are still making it across the border into the U.S. is giving us hope that, ultimately, we can re-establish breeding populations and truly restore them to being important parts of our national fauna,” he said.

Peters said ocelots have always had a presence in the southwestern U.S., with records in Arizona dating back to the 19th century.


By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

Coyote StageWorks of Palm Springs delivers an early Valentine to fans and lovers of Country Music with a country-western comedy romp and hoot called “Honky Tonk Laundry”, written and directed by prolific playwright Roger Bean.

Country Western music celebrates the songs and stars of juke-box country music with a fresh, innovative, libretto that recalls how much sufferin’ goes on in ‘he/she did me wrong’ songs and lyrics along with the hilarious, everyday situations the characters find themselves in trying run a laundromat while at the time yearning to become performers in this play within a play production.

Story-wise both ladies are just biding their time waiting to wreak revenge on the two men that done ‘em wrong; Lana Mae’s cheating husband Earl and Katie’s live-in boyfriend whom she booted out of her home for similar transgressions.

This cleverly written and terrifically produced musical stars two gifted Equity performers: Bets Malone as Lana Mae Hopkins, owner and operator of the ‘Wishy Washy Washateria’, in Nashville Tennessee,  and her one and only employee Katie Lane Murphy (Misty Cotton), who suffers from an almost incurable case of stage fright. (Remember, I said an ‘almost’ incurable case). As the age-old axiom says misery loves company, and these two actor/singer/dancer pros bond as two southern women trying to cope with love and marriage on that very bumpy road of life.    It’s great stuff full of country musical comedy that the audience just laps up.

Ms. Malone and Ms. Cotton performed the same roles back in August of 2017 when they starred in the Los Angeles Hudson Theatre production of “Honky Tonk Laundry”.  They were critically acclaimed star turns then, and they haven’t lost a beat in their reprisal transfer to the Palm Springs production currently performing at the Annenberg Theater.  It’s still a tour de force effort by both easy-on-the-eyes talented ladies.

In addition to the anthology music material and plotline, which at times, is rightly over the top, Ms. Bets, and Ms. Cotton perform like two peas in a pod with lots of two-part harmony and perform full bore, all out, and we the audience are the better for it.   There are over twenty-four song titles and credit references in this interactive audience production that are featured in the show.

There is one breakout number honoring three of country western music’s iconic performers of yesteryear: Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and Tammy Wynette.  Ms. Malone as Lana Mae Hopkins sings the signature songs pf Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette while Ms. Cotton sings as the great Patsy Cline. It’s a haunting musical moment that brings goose pimples to the audience amid a few misty eyes as well.

This show is a poignant love letter to those who can’t get enough country western music from the greats who are now gone.  (Speaking of show business greats; we lost Coachella Valley residents and National Treasures of the Arts Carol Channing and Kaye Ballard within the last three weeks) The on-stage energy generated by Ms. Cotton and Ms. Malone fairly crackles with foot-stomping, hand-clapping choreography by James Vasquez on a set creatively crafted by the acclaimed award-winning designer Tom Buderwitz.  The music arrangements are under the baton of Jon Newton’s direction.

The lighting design magic is provided by designer Moira Wilke Whitaker.  The Costume designs by   Wardrobe Master Frank Cazares has the ladies outfitted in eye-catching, sparkling red, white and gold, glittering western-styled skirts and boots. The sound design and execution of the tracks by Sheridan Carnahan is smooth and spot-on.  Director Bean leading his creative team can take bows for an impressive production that is stage managed by Dale Alan Cooke.

“Honky Tonk Laundry” js a splendid, fun-loving musical comedy that is being performed at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs and runs through February 10, 2019. For ticket information call the box office at 760-325-4490 or go online to annenbergtheater.org


By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

When a theatre closes its doors for good that’s usually a cause for tears and lamentations.  The Temples and/or live theatre venues in the world can ill afford any more venue closings in the time of media cutbacks and their support for the Arts. Outside of hard cash, the media is the mother’s milk of continuing support for keeping the doors open.

But not to worry. CV REP, one of the finest Equity theatres in the Coachella Valley isn’t closing its doors but merely transferring from its cozy 88 seat venue location at the Atrium in Rancho Mirage, to their new home in the former IMAX Movie theatre in Cathedral City.

Producing Artistic Director Ron Celona’s dream of bringing Equity theatre productions to all of the Coachella Valley has been incubating for six years. On March 15, 2019, CV REP will debut its new 208 seat, state-of-the-art theatre, with the musical “Chess.” Stay tuned for more information. But first, we need to discuss the current production “White,” written by James Ijames, and deftly directed by Ron Celona.
 It’s a uniquely structured comedy with dark undertones that deals in how people relate to one another using the prism of skin color, sexual identity, racial diversity, privilege or lack of it. And that’s only part of the issues presented in this non-traditional comedy with a bite. 

It’s intensely provocative to be sure.  The question for me is what is playwright Ijames trying to say to his audiences?   What are the audiences expected do with this information once they have processed it? Which by the way, is excellently performed by its outstanding four-member cast If the play’s dialogue hit’s one as a bit enigmatic, does the story even as it unfolds then remain an enigma? Things to ponder…

When the lights, cleverly and neatly positioned for maximum effect, by Lighting Designer Moira Wilkie Whitaker, come up, we’re at the prestigious Parnell Gallery, being welcomed by Gallery director Jane (Charlotte Munson).  The second scene takes place in a cozy apartment, designed by CV REP Emmy-winning resident designer Jimmy Cuomo.  It’s the home of mildly successful, young, gay, painter Gus (convincingly played by Paul David Story, and his schoolteacher partner Tanner (engagingly portrayed by Anthony Saludares).

Gus is ambitious and looking to climb another rung upward to further his career as an artist. Tanner is quite happy with correcting his students’ papers and essays while enjoying the companionship of Gus.  Ambition in creative artists is usually a good thing and necessary for success.  Gus’ friend Jane has been recently promoted to “New Visions in American Art” curator at the prestigious Parnell Galleries.   Jane has her Gallery’s mandate and intends to debut the necessary emerging artists that meet her goals of presenting artists of diversity, color, and gender, but must be relatively unknown.  Gus is confident that long-time friend Jane will present his latest canvases at the gallery opening.

Gus, yes, were friends, but I’m not looking for more works from a white dude, Jane explains.  It’s a shattering shot across Gus’ bow which deflates him and his relationship with Jane for a while until he experiences an astral visit from a god-like figure that suspiciously resembles Diana Ross.  Hippies of the 60’s often claimed of experiencing such voices and visions after spending a session with Harvard Professor Thomas Leary of LSD notoriety or late night mushroom snacks spiked with unknown ingredients.

 Gus ‘epiphany leads him to create a back-story, as cover, for his scheme of having his paintings appear in the exhibit at the Parnell Galleries by hiring Vanessa, an African American actress (a sensational Franceli Chapman) to submit his paintings, as her own.  There are echoes of Woody Allen’s 1976 comedy “The Front,” in Mr. Ijames’ plotline. Instead of blacklisted writers, we’re now dealing with reverse discrimination issues of white painters. 

I admit it’s not a very strong line of attack to really have legislation do what common sense could easily accomplish.  But it does achieve what playwright Ijames and others have complained about all along – “whiteness” is a definite advantage.  Perhaps, he wrote his play to bring the issue of discrimination to more people’s attention.   It’s long been said that before you begin blankly condemning or tossing rocks, try walking a mile in the other guy’s or gal’s footsteps.

Vanessa at first demurs to Paul’s proposition to be his alter-ego.  But later decides it’s just another acting gig, so why not.  Paul introduces Vanessa to Jane as a painter with talent recommended by some of Paul’s friends.  Vanessa charms Jane who is excited with finding a talented woman of color that she can introduce as one of many that will appear at her upcoming “New Visions in American Art” exhibition.

Things appear to be coming along as the exhibition nears.  Jane is super-excited with her project.  Paul is uneasy because of subtle twists in Vanessa’s behavior of late.  Signs begin to creep into the ploy about the paintings and their origin. Also, Paul’s relationship with Tanner is becoming strained because of Paul’s plan, and Vanessa’s strange behavior.  To divulge any further details about “White” won’t be coming from me. No spoiler alerts here. This I can say; however, this is a production that shouldn’t be missed.  It’s performed without an intermission and runs about 90 minutes.

When it comes to the actors in “White” and just how they grab hold of their characters and how they interact with one another, is terrific.  For example, they are always in the moment, always reaching and stretching their talent to draw the audience toward them. Always generous toward one another yet work as individual professional actors, who blend and work as a unit.  It’s good stuff.

The technical credits over the last eight years at the Atrium have always been outstanding. For the “White production:” Sets by Jimmy Cuomo, Lighting by Moira Wilkie Whitaker, Costumes by Aalsa Lee, Sound by Kate Fechtig, Hair and Make-up Designs by Lynda Shaeps, along with  Associate Designer Doug Morris, and Louise Ross, as stage manager, complete the creative team led by director Celona. 

This the last CV REP production that will be performed in the Atrium. I’ve seen and reviewed most of them. It has been a wonderful run with many outstanding productions and many memories to be savored from the last eight years. So, Goodbye Atrium.  Hello, CV REP in their new home in Cathedral City beginning March 15, 2019.

Fully armed FBI agents arrest Trump’s ex-adviser Roger Stone in pr​e-dawn raid

Roger Stone. – Robert Mueller

Stone is facing one count of obstruction of proceedings, one count of witness tampering, and five counts of false statements.

It is alleged that Stone, who officially left the Trump campaign in August 2015, told campaign officials in July 2016 about future WikiLeaks (referred to in Mueller’s document as “Organization 1”) releases of damaging information found in leaked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails. US intelligence claims Russian “government actors hacked the emails.”

During Trump’s campaign, Stone boasted about having connections with WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange but later said it wasn’t a direct link. Instead, he said that he relied on New York radio host Randy Credico (named “Person 2” in the Thursday indictment) as a “go-between.”

The indictment says Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee about his alleged contacts with WikiLeaks and tried to convince another person to give false testimony.

Stone, a long-time ally of Trump, was recently praised by the US president for saying he would “never testify against Trump” and for having “guts” in the face of the “rogue and out of control prosecutor” Mueller.

The FBI showed up at Stone’s door in force. Agents arrived armed with assault rifles and clad in body armor, and without warning.

FBI agents are among those left without pay due to the ongoing US government shutdown, and the fact that they still went and arrested Stone had the anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ praising on them on Twitter for “protecting this country.”

Since Trump came to power, FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ probe has been investigating the US intelligence community’s allegations that he had conspired with Russia during the 2016 campaign. Stone’s arrest is arguably the most significant of the probe, which has so far resulted in several high-profile arrests on charges unrelated to the still unproven “collusion.”

Russia has dismissed all allegations of working to put Trump in power or control his decisions.

Many of Trump’s opponents blame Russia for his surprise 2016 victory against Hillary Clinton. In April 2018, the House Intelligence Committee concluded that Trump had not colluded with Moscow, but later the Senate committee said he did, choosing to side with US intelligence assessments.

Those assessments, as well as media reports often based on unnamed sources (many of which have since proven to be false),  remain the chief basis for the ‘Russiagate’ allegations, as Mueller’s team has so far failed to uncover proof of conspiracy in its two-year probe.

Rousing Songcraft Via New Releases

By Robert Kinsler

A trio of discs celebrating the ever-growing legacy of Big Star and that band’s late frontman Alex Chilton, as well as a new LP from Southern California songstress Alice Wallace highlight my latest round of recommended new listens.

Artist: Big Star

Title: Live on WLIR (Omnivore Recordings)

You might like if you enjoy: The Replacements, R.E.M., Big Star

Tell me more: Captured in the wake of the release of their second album, 1974’s brilliant “Radio City,” Big Star’s performance featured on “Live on WLIR” is essential listening for fans of the legendary Memphis band. The 15-track set recorded on New York radio station WLIR-FM features singer-guitarist Alex Chilton, drummer-vocalist Jody Stephens and bassist John Lightman performing many of Big Star’s most beloved original songs as well as an acoustic cover of Loudon Wainwright III’s “Motel Blues” and a short on-air interview. Although the radio broadcast was originally released as “Live” in 1992, the recording has now been restored and remastered as both a single audio CD or double LP release. Highlights on “Live on WLIR” include the shimmering “September Gurls,” the melodic rockers “Way Out West” and “In The Street,” and the acoustic “Thirteen” (the latter one of several cuts that Chilton performs solo). The collection has new, updated liner notes from Memphis writer Robert Gordon (a Grammy winner for his essay on the 2010 Big Star box set “Keep an Eye on the Sky”) as well as a new interview with John Lightman conducted by Chris Bell biographer Rich Tupica. Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com.

Artist: Alex Chilton

Title: From Memphis to New Orleans (Bar/None Records)

You might like if you enjoy: Big Star, John Lennon

Tell me more: Alex Chilton’s third act is celebrated on several new releases coming in February 2019, including “From Memphis to New Orleans.” Having found fame during his teens as lead singer of The Box Tops and cult acclaim in his twenties leading Big Star, Alex Chilton explored his Southern roots when he emerged from a self-imposed exile in the 1980s. The material featured on “From Memphis to New Orleans” is loose and authentic, showcasing a more relaxed Chilton than the intense personality showcased on Big Star’s seminal discs. “Paradise” (with its late ’50s-flavored Buddy Holly stylings), the soulful New Orleans-minded “Underclass” and “Make A Little Love,” tuneful “Let Me Get Close To You,” and Beach Boys-mining “Little GTO” reflect the joyful spirit of this period in Chilton’s career. Information: bar-none.com.

Artist: Alice Wallace

Title: Into The Blue (Rebelle Road Records)

You might like if you enjoy: Kacey Musgraves, Pistol Annies, Emmylou Harris

Tell me more: Alice Wallace’s “Into the Blue” is one of the first masterworks of 2019. An album that combines the best of contemporary Americana and modern country music styles, the 10-track album should further introduce the emerging artist to a wider audience. Wallace has an emotive and dazzling soprano voice to be sure (just listen to her voice soar in the final moments of “Desert Rose” and artfully again in “Top of the World”) but it is the way she wraps her musical talents around persuasive songs often directed at issues of female empowerment and life in Southern California that elevate the soaring soundscapes even higher. Every song on “Into The Blue” is a great one with the tracks resonating with each listen; indeed residents of wildfire-ravaged Southern California will relate to the timely “Santa Ana Winds” while everyone will appreciate universal themes explored in “The Lonely Talking,” “The Same Old Song” and “Top of the World.” Information: AliceWallaceMusic.com.

Artist: Alex Chilton

Title: Songs From Robin Hood Lane (Bar/None Records)

You might like if you enjoy: Big Star, Jonathan Butler

Tell me more: The second of two Alex Chilton releases set for release by Bar/None Records in February, “Songs From Robin Hood Lane” collects four previously unreleased performances as well as rare tracks and recordings long out of print. The dozen-song title finds Chilton offering up his emotional takes on jazz-styled classics ranging from “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me” to “All Of You” and “Time After Time.” A version of the American Songbook classic “Save Your Love For Me” is especially poignant. Information: bar-none.com.


Cory Hills Percussionist

The fifth season of Desert Hot Springs Classical Concerts continues with a benefit concert for the local high school music program, featuring percussionist Cory Hills. The concert takes place at 7 pm on Tuesday, January 29 in the Black Box Theater at Desert Hot Springs High School. Admission is free, but donations will be an accepted at the door.

“We’re thrilled to continue our partnership with Palm Springs Unified School District,” said Desert Hot Springs Classical Concerts Founder and Artistic Dire actor, Danny Holt. “We know that students and their families alongside members of the general public will be blown away by the artistry of this incredible performer!”

Cory Hills is an active performer and recording artist in Los Angeles, as well as a member of the Grammy-nominated Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. Hills is the creator of Percussive Storytelling, a program that brings classical percussion and storytelling to kids in fun and aaccessible ways. To date, Hills has presented over 500 programs to more than 125,000 children in nine countries while also releasing a fully-illustrated children’s book, a children’s novel, and two national award-winning CDs.

Admission is free, thanks to underwriting from the City of Desert Hot Springs Community and Cultural Affairs Commission, support from local businesses, and individual donations. Cash donations at the door will benefit the high school’s music program.

WHERE: Desert Hot Springs High School, Black Box Theater 65850 Pierson Blvd., Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240

WHEN: Tuesday, January 29, 2019, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM 

PERFORMER: Percussionist Cory Hills



Michael Picardi, ChairCommunity and Cultural Affairs Commission

Public Celebration of Life Ceremony for Mayor Gregory S. Pettis Announced


Ceremony to be held at Big League Dreams Sports Park in Cathedral City

Cathedral City Mayor Gregory Pettis
Cathedral City Mayor Gregory Pettis

CATHEDRAL CITY, CA. –The City Council of Cathedral City officially announces a Public Celebration of Life for Mayor Gregory S. Pettis, the longest serving councilmember in the City’s history.  The ceremony will take place on Friday, February 1, 2019 at 10:00 am, located at Big League Dreams Sports Park, Sports Pavilion, 33700 Date Palm Drive in Cathedral City. 

The ceremony, emceed by KESQ Meteorologist Patrick Evans, features dignitaries from our federal, state, county and local representatives, family members of Mayor Pettis, city staff, friends, and colleagues.  The public is invited to gather together, share the memories, and pay tribute to his lasting legacy.  A reception will follow the ceremony onsite.

With a large crowd expected to attend and limited parking available at Big League Dreams Sports Park and the adjacent Cathedral City Public Library, Sunline Transit Agency is offering free shuttle service between Cathedral City’s downtown parking structure located next to City Hall, 68-600 Avenida Lalo Guerrero, and Big-League Dreams Sports Park.  The shuttle service will pick-up the first group of riders up at 9:00 am and will provide shuttle service back and forth through 1 pm.  

What: “Public Celebration of Life Ceremony for Mayor Gregory S. Pettis” 

Where:  Big League Dreams Sports Park, 33700 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City

 When:  Friday, February 1, 2019, 10 am


By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

If ever an American city received an undeserved bum rap just for being known as the “snow capital’ of America its Buffalo, New York.  A hundred years ago It was an important, vibrant, port city, and a stop for every theatrical touring company in the country. It’s still a lovely city that attracts thousands of visitors every year to see the near-by famous Waterfalls at Niagara, one of nature’s great wonders.

It also became the location city where one of America’s most prolific and prodigious playwrights, the reigning King of comedy/farces Ken Ludwig, set his 1995 play “Moon Over Buffalo”, now on stage at North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT), in Solana Beach.

The madcap comedy play, solidly directed by Matthew Wiener follows in the tradition of Ludwig’s 1987 Tony Award-winning comedy-farce “Lend Me a Tenor”.  Once again a Ludwig play is in creative and capable hands at NCRT.

Set in 1953 in Buffalo, NY the play centers on George and Charlotte Hay (Arthur Hanket and Katrina Ferguson, respectively) two fading stage actors who run a theatrical touring company.  They’re currently performing two plays in repertory: “Cyrano de Bergerac and “Private Lives”.  Comedy/farce is best performed in lots of ‘over-the-top’ stage moments.  The more slap-stick and slamming door performances, the better.  Director Weiner provides a production chock full of pratfalls, backstage shenanigans, and mistaken identities to please even the fussiest of connoisseurs of the genre.

Of course, the Hay daughter Roz (Jaque Wilkie) left the company to lead a “normal life” sometime ago, but returns to see her parents to announce the news of her engagement to her new fiancé TV Weatherman Howard (Arusi Santi).  Roz’s ex-boyfriend Paul (Josh Braaten), is the stage manager of the Hay’s company of actors; still pines for Roz.  Charlotte’s mother, hard of hearing Ethel, is hilariously played by Roxane Carrasco, who loves needling her son-in-law George.  Richard a successful lawyer who continues to pursue Charlotte as her favorite stage door Johnny, is played by Mathew Salazar-Thompson. Brittney Bertier plays Eileen, a young actor who sets in motion more comedy moments than you could imagine.

There is one referred to character (never seen), who acts as sort of Hitchcock’s famous “MaGuffin” plot piece. Hollywood film director Frank Capra informs the Hay’s that he wants to see their performance of “Private Lives” at which time he is expected to make an offer to hire the Hay’s for a movie project.  This news sends the company into orbit and into non-stop hilarity. However, No spoiler alerts from me.  Just make sure you attend a performance to enjoy for yourself.

This professional ensemble cast of farceurs is outstanding.  But as good as they are, and they’re very good, the evening belongs to Arthur Hanket as George and to Katrina Ferguson as Charlotte.  These two wonderful performers were born to play the unhinged Hay’s. Their comedy timing and pacing is terrific thanks to the seamless direction of Matthew Wiener.

As for the technical credits: Resident Scenic Designer Marty Burnett and Lighting Designer Matt Novotny, never fail to provide creative set and lightings designs for NCRT.  Elisa Benzoni’s costumes enhance the visual appeal, and 2019 San Diego Critics Circle Craig Noel Awards nominated sound designer Melanie Chen Cole provides the sound.  Hair & Wig Design is by Peter Herman.  Fight Choreographer Benjamin Cole completes the creative team.

The impressive production “Moon Over Buffalo”, performs at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach,and runs through February 10, 2019

Goldenvoice Offers Valley Residents Opportunity to Purchase 2019 Festival Passes


Los Angeles, CA – January 15, 2019 – Goldenvoice announced that they are once again offering local valley residents the opportunity to purchase passes to this April’s Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals. Residents may purchase passes to COACHELLA WEEKEND 1 (April 12-14), COACHELLA WEEKEND 2 (Apr 19-21) and/or Stagecoach (Apr 26-28) with proof of residency.

Residents will be able to submit requests for passes. Order requests will be randomly selected and approved based on residency requirements. General Admission (GA) Passes are $429 each for Coachella & $349* each for Stagecoach, all fees included. VIP Passes are $999 for Coachella and range from $899-$1,399 for Stagecoach. *Price subject to change.

There will be a 4-pass limit per weekend per resident, while supplies last. Wristbands will be placed on the wrist of the resident purchaser and their guest by the box office staff – guests must be present. Resident passes may only be purchased for use by valley residents and their guests. Proof of residency must be shown in the form of a California driver’s license or ID card at time of pick up. Passes are non-transferable.

Please visit our websites for further details on how to submit order request.



Coachella 2019: Full Lineup Announced


Coachella Music And Arts Festival

Childish Gambino, Tame Impala, and Ariana Grande are slated to play the weekend’s top slots. Tame Impala shared the news on Instagram, adding that fans can expect “new sounds” from the band this year.

Solange, Kid Cudi, Aphex Twin, Janelle Monáe, the 1975, Pusha-T, Blood Orange, Diplo, Weezer, Kacey Musgraves, Rosalía, Yves Tumor, SOPHIE, Mac DeMarco, Idris Elba, Jon Hopkins, Kaytranada, Anderson.Paak, Juice WRLD, Playboi Carti, Let’s Eat Grandma, Bad Bunny, Sheck Wes, Gesaffelstein, J Balvin, Tierra Whack, 070 Shake, JPEGMAFIA, and more are also on this year’s lineup. Check out the poster below. Coachella returns to the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California from April 12-14 and then for a second weekend from April 19-21. The festival will stream live on YouTube both weekends. It’s the first time both weekends will stream.

Kanye West was widely rumored last year to be a headliner at Coachella 2019 alongside Justin Timberlake and Childish Gambino. (Kanye and Timberlake are not on this year’s lineup.) Earlier today, TMZ reported that Kanye pulled out of Coachella and won’t be headlining this year after all. The alleged fallout was reportedly over the stage’s size and design. TMZ reports that Goldenvoice refused to alter or remove the traditional main stage for Kanye. Pitchfork has reached out to Kanye’s representatives for comment.

Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande has released her hit 2018 single “thank u, next” on vinyl. The 7″ pressing of the single, which comes with her recently released song “Imagine” on the B-side, is available to purchase on her website.

“thank u, next” recently got a new music video, which featured references to early 2000s teen films such as Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Bring It On, and more. Grande released her last LP Sweetener in August.

See where “thank u, next” landed on Pitchfork’s list of “The 100 Best Songs of 2018.”


By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic Member American Theatre Association

It only took 140 years for the Women’s Rights movement in the English speaking world to finally flex its wings and its power, thanks to the 2018 #MeToo movement, over the last two years to become the vehicle for finally taking the subject of “equality rights” seriously.

The great Norwegian playwright Henrick Ibsen, considered by many to be the father of the modern drama genre, shocked and scandalized Victorian society with his uber-feminist play “A Doll’s House” in 1879.  The world of the theatre has never been the same since.

Fast forward to 2017…  Lucas Hnath, a young Florida-born American playwright’s curiosity is peaked by Ibsens’ play “A Doll’s House”.  He liked the story, but he wondered what Nora’s life must have been like over the last fifteen years following that famous door slamming incident.  Big things often have small beginnings both in literature and in real life.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2”, premiered in 2017- garnering 8 Tony Nominations – is a perfect example of how an iconic classic play coupled with talent, and a sense of curiosity from an original thinking playwright can become a fresh, smart, new work, that’s been dazzling  audiences wherever it performs.  (Hnath’s 2016 play “The Christians”, received a Tony nomination for his insightful story of a Pastor who questions his belief in God and The Bible).

Hnath’s timing in writing Nora’s story sequel, so to speak, is a bit prescient as well. The time has definitely come to address the issue of ‘feminine inequality’ in all its forms.  He leavens the dramatic stereotypes of Ibsen’s day by inserting more elements of comedy and sass into Nora’s character.  It’s still a four character play, but Mr. Hnath’s whip smart plotline and dialogue makes an 1879 story seem so very modern without sacrificing any of the bittersweet moments and poignancy of Ibsen’s original vision in this riveting entertaining play.   

Each production no doubt brings its own take to the core story. This “Doll’s House” production is in the good and capable hands of San Diego Repertory Theatre founding artistic Director, Sam Woodhouse.  After 43 years in charge of one of San Diego’s acclaimed theatrical performing venues, expectations were high for an exciting and entertaining evening of theatre on the Lyceum Stage.  Director Woodhouse didn’t disappoint.  His experienced, directorial fingerprints are all over this excellent production.  He has an unerring eye for timing and pacing; nurturing the most poignant of performances from his outstanding cast.

New York actor Sofia Jean Gomez’s entrance at the beginning as Nora Helmer, draws a gasp and an enthusiastic welcome from Anne Marie, Nora’s loyal family nanny wonderfully played by San Diego favorite Linda Libby.  Torvald Helmer, Nora’s husband is volatile but sensitively played by Rene Thornton, Jr. who doesn’t like confrontation with people; especially not with Norra. Their daughter Emmy, is energetically played by Danny Brown, who is fascinated, but wary of a mother she hasn’t seen in 15 years. There are secrets lurking beneath the surface of Nora’s visit, but no spoiler alerts here.

There are finely judged performances from everyone.  But the evening belongs to Ms. Gomez. Her entrance commands attention right from the get-go.  This is a fully in-charge woman at the height of her powers, controlling her own destiny and relishing her return.  Gone is the woman who craved her independence but was denied it by the strictures of Victorian society.  We now see a beautiful. statuesque, young woman standing in her home 15 years later as a confident, wealthy, successful, independent business woman.  It’s been said that revenge is sweet…or is it?  Ay, there’s the rub.

Playwright Hnath’s cleverly crafted play is a delicious, tasty juxtaposition of actors and themes, that  I suspect will become  a template/formula for creative ‘sequels’ in the future. All it takes is imagination and talent.

San Diego Rep Theatre technical credits are always first rate.  The creative team led by director Woodhouse includes Scenic Designer Sean Fanning who provides a clean, large performing space for Lighting Designer Alan Burrett, to paint the stage with the proper amount of illumination to appreciate the Victorian era costumes of Designer Jennifer Brawn Gittings.  Nora’s costumes are especially fetching on Ms. Gomez.  Sound design Matthew Lescault-Wood, and Wig Designer Missy Bradstreet, complete the creative team.  The production is stage managed by Laura Zingle.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2”, is an impressive production that performs, without an intermission (88 minutes) on SD Rep’s Lyceum Stage at Horton Plaza through December 16, 2018.


By Janice Gough

Recently we have experienced significant market declines. It is that time that we all must look at our investments and make changes before a bigger correction comes and losses are more massive. For the coming year, the U.S. growth will most likely slow and the risks of a recession climb in 2019 as the near-decade-long economic cycle ages. According to some investment forecast, the probability of a U.S. recession over the next 12 months has risen to about 30 percent recently. It is higher than at any point in this nine-year-old expansion, The last few months have given us a sense of the types of risks that are out there, that both the economy and markets are going to face in 2019.   Expect ongoing volatility, and that’s true across all segments of the financial markets. Also, expect U.S. growth to slow to less than 2 percent in the second half of 2019, converging downward with other developed nation economies. A pause in Federal Reserve interest rate hikes is likely in the first half of 2019, but tightening will persist as the Fed continues reducing its balance sheet holdings.  

So you may have just been hit with the first storm, What are you going to do now?

The options one needs to consider are 1.) Reviewing asset allocations and moving or selling riskier ones that could deflate the portfolio, 2.) Transferring money to Safer Investments. If your investments are not needed for 5 or 10 years, then consider insured plans, such as Equity Indexed Annuities or Fixed Annuities, averaging 5-6% returns.  3.) For the Assets, you wish to keep in place, review current conditions and news regarding the Company. Morningstar software is always an excellent tool for evaluations.  Remember that the Market is like being in Vegas on a betting table, it is not going to deliver a great win after a significant loss; it will call you to “Stay In” to recapture losses until it is too late. 

Many investors have already evaluated and moved their holdings to safer ground, however, many investors who have their money in retirement accounts; i.e., 401K. 403B, and have not had the time to make changes at work. It is a hectic time of the year for most, but it is time to safeguard your retirement assets. There is still time to maximize your contribution for the year. Sheltering your income will save taxes by contributing to your employer’s retirement plan or ed IRA. The maximum that one can contribute is $18,500/year, plus $6,000 “catch-up,” for people 50+ and the coming year it increases to $19,000/year, plus the same $6,000 “catch-up,” so you’ll want to make the necessary adjustments to maximize deductions and review your account. For IRA owners, the limit is $6,500 with a $1,000 catch up over age 50.

Also, consider these options to save taxes: Tax-loss harvesting- if you currently have unrealized investment losses (who doesn’t), then you might benefit from selling those positions to realize those losses. The first $3,000 would be a write-off against your ordinary income, and the remainder could offset future capital gains. Don’t buy back the same security immediately as you’ll trigger a “wash sale,” eliminating your ability to take the deduction. Instead, buy another investment or wait 31 days to buy back the same stake. Gift appreciated stock- if you are sitting on a few successful ventures, you could benefit from transferring appreciated assets to a charity or a family member who might be in a lower tax rate up to the gift tax-free amount of $15,000. Gifting this to a charity could have the double whammy of removing the capital gain from your portfolio and providing you with the charitable deduction. 

Charitable gifting – if you give every year, you’ll find that this year you won’t be able to take the deduction, unless your itemizing. To make a difference on your taxes, you’ll need to gift a sizable amount that’s above the standard deduction: $12,000 for single filers, $24,000 for married filing jointly. Another solution to charitable gifting is the Legacy Plan, where you can contribute, deduct, and the proceeds go to your charities of choice.

 Janice Goughis an advisor in Palm Springs, Ca. We welcome your calls and wish you a Safe, glorious holiday. At Gough Financial, we I help our clients identify areas that could improve their tax situation and set them up for a better financial future.  Contact Janice at (760) 251-7724 or Mobile (650) 200-8291 or email: janice@GoughFinancialSvcs.com and visit www.GoughFinancialSvcs.comfor more tips.


The cast of The Year to Come; photo by Jim Carmody.
By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association
By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

Playwright Lindsey Ferrentino apparently felt the urge to inform audiences just how disparate are families and their need to share their ubiquitous stories with the world at large.  Television has been the delivery system that best gets the comedy job done.  Sitcoms have mastered the medium for more than 70 years.  The one true American playwriting comedy genius was Neil Simon. He’s gone now and we now await the next King or Queen of comedy to arrive.

Yes, it’s true. Everyone does indeed have a story or stories to tell. Some exploration every now and then is necessary as social mores evolve and change. But I’m not quite sure that Ms. Ferrentino’s comedy play “The Year to Come”, is the vehicle to bridge so many gaps facing our ever changing society. 

The current production on the stage of the Mandell Weiss Theatre is helmed by seasoned veteran director Anne Kauffman who’s directing credits are solid from coast to coast.   The story format, however,  is a little unusual, but intriguing in that the story unfolds in reverse – somewhat similar to Jason Robert Brown’s musical “The Last Five Years”. His format begins in the middle and works towards each character’s end game.

Adam Chanler-Berat (right) and Pomme Koch; photo by Jim Carmody.

Ms. Ferrentino’s ensemble cast story is set in Florida and New York covering a decade beginning in 2018 and concluding in 2008.  Audiences also have to bring their best listening skills to stay engaged or one could get lost in the progression/regression thread of the story and format. The story In short, centers around an extended family of eight who meet every New Year’s Eve to watch the Fireworks and celebrations on TV. In between they gab, they needle each other, and catch up on the latest gossip and politics.  With plays of this type, one can expect tensions to rise resulting in defending turf and deeply held opinions and the usual hot button issues of the day.  It’s standard TV sitcom fare without the laugh track.

The talented ensemble cast of this production is working hard but doesn’t get the end game payoff they deserve, includes: recognizable actors from TV and stage appearances include: Jonathan Nichols as Frank, an Archie Bunker-type retired fireman, and family patriarch; his wife Estelle, played by Jane Kaczmarek, their gay son Jim played by Adam Chanler-Berat and Jim’s significant other Sinan, portrayed by Pomme Koch,  Franks’ son-law Joe, played by Ray Anthony Thomas and his wife Pam played  by Marcia DeBonis,  and grandfather Pop-Pop, a retired musician and stand-up comic portrayed by Peter Van Wagner, and Jenna Dioguardi, as the Performer, complete the cast.

The Year to Come, by Lindsey Ferrentino, directed by Anne Kauffman; photo by Jim Carmody.

Creative artists, actors, producers and writers are always on the lookout for smart, sharp, fresh plots and dialogue.  With only 36 generally acknowledged story plots to draw from, it’s no wonder that we see so many revivals on Broadway and sequels in movies and TV. Good writing is hard work.  Right now our world is a fraught and troubled place.  We need less amped up chaos and action-oriented movies  – that are merely chewing gum for the eyes and ears – and more emphasis on plays that reflect the intellectual rigor that becomes good writing and  makes  audience entertainment choices easier and more enjoyable. 

Corny as it may sound, we need more writers in our ‘playwright pipeline’ that can chase away the blues and ‘downer’ stories while delivering situations and dialogue that appeal to our better angels.  Walt Disney-like movies are not the answer either. We all need a varied diet be it food for our bodies, or less chaos in the human emotions and feelings that stimulate our brains.  After all, variety is supposed to be the spice of life.

“The Year to Come” story and production comes across to me like old wine in a new bottle that’s unevenly written.   I couldn’t settle in to root for any of the characters and that’s not a good sign.  Perhaps, it was a case of opening night jitters but the pacing as well, was on and off, and a few lines and cues seemed to be late or dropped.  In addition, I overheard a couple during intermission say “I don’t remember people speaking like that, do you?”  The dialogue for the years covered does seem a bit socially anachronistic at times (and I only counted 21 F-bombs being hurled from the stage).  Whatever happened to the playwright’s best friend – a thesaurus? Alas, hope springs eternal.

The technical credits at the La Jolla Playhouse are always first rate.  Led by director Kauffman, the creative team of Scenic Designer Christopher Acebo, whose expansive clean lines and space design delivers Lighting Designer Lap Chi Chu, many choices to create the moods and lighting touches that allow the costumes of Designer Dede Ayite to be appreciated.  Sound Designer Brandon Wolcott, Video Designer Anna Robinson, Wig, Hair & Makeup Designer J. Jared Janas, and Fight Consultant James Newcomb, complete the creative team.  Cynthia Cahill, is the production Stage Manager.

“The Year to Come” performs in the Mandell Weiss Theatre and runs through December 30, 2018.




Blockbuster Theatrical Show Dazzles Sold-Out Audiences Worldwide

INDIO, CA – On the heels of a highly successful multi-city tour and run on Broadway, the world’s best-selling touring magic show, THE ILLUSIONISTS – LIVE FROM BROADWAY™ (www.theillusionistslive.com), will play The Special Events Center at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino on Friday, March 29, 2019.

Full of hilarious magic tricks, death-defying stunts and acts of breathtaking wonder, The Illusionists has shattered box office records worldwide and thrilled audiences of all ages with a mind-blowing spectacular showcasing the jaw-dropping talents of six of the most incredible illusionists on earth.

Creative Producer Simon Painter said, “We can’t wait to bring this electrifying show to Fantasy Springs Resort Casino for a truly entertaining experience for the whole family. The Illusionists is the most non-stop and powerful mix of outrageous and astonishing acts ever to be seen on the live stage.”

The Times of London has declared that The Illusionists is “Magic’s Cirque du Soleil,” The Daily Telegraph of Sydney says that “It’s deliciously, self-knowingly over the top and brain-bendingly spectacular – genuinely satisfying family entertainment that should not be missed,” and The Toronto Sun gives The Illusionists four stars, declaring that the show is, “Dramatic, genius, death-defying and laugh-out-loud funny!” The Special Events Center at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has never seen a show like The Illusionists and audiences will love it!

Tickets for the 8pm The Illusionists performance on Friday, March 29, 2019 go on sale Friday, December 7th for $59, $49 and $29 at the Fantasy Springs Box Office, via telephone (800) 827-2946 or online at www.FantasySpringsResort.com.

Men of the Desert Fashion Show and Charity Luncheon

Ellen Wolf, Barry Manilow, Lorna Luft. Photo Pat Krause

Story and Photos by Pat Krause
The 9th Annual Men of the Desert Fashion Show and Charity Luncheon was held on Sunday, December 2nd at the Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa. The event benefits Animal Samaritans who celebrated their 40th anniversary improving the lives of animals and people. Event co-chairs were Lori Serfling and Patrick Mundt. Events like this take a lot of people to make it happen successfully. Volunteers sometimes make all the difference.

The lobby was full of local pet lovers, some with dogs, who perused the long list of silent auction items. Nearly 50 items were up for bid that included a lot of items for pets — other items catered to people and pet owners. Susan Stein was the producer for the style show. Stein is the Fashion and Scene Editor of Palm Springs Life Magazine. She chose creations for each model for his style which went from casual to a more dressed up look. Stein said always to wear what makes you comfortable in your style.

The models included Eric Bennet, Host of HGTV’S Desert Flippers, Richard DeSantis who is president and CEO of Event Management Productions and Dennis Flaig, Manager of Sak’s Fifth Avenue. Bryan Gallo, KMIR Weathercaster, Don Genhart, Founder of Men of the Desert Fashion Show and Albert Gonzalez from Eight4Nine Restaurant. Gerald Greene, Keller Williams Realty, Scott Histed, Bennion Deville Homes, Al Jones, President CSU Palm Desert Campus Advancement Board. Gary Kief, President, and CEO, Stiletto Entertainment, Robert McCarthy, Founder-CA Health and Fitness plus founder of 3-D bodywork and David Morris, MD, Chief Medical Officer for DAP. The list continues with Nate Otto, President of Hot Purple Energy, David Romness MD, who is Eisenhower Health Emergency Department Operations Director, Mike Thompson, CEO of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert and Brian Tilles, Founder-Corvette Specialties.

All these busy and professional men took time out of their busy days to walk the runway with a dog or dogs. The men each wore several outfits as they walked the runway with all sizes and breeds of dogs. Several of the men walked with more than one dog. One model walked with three dogs wearing red antlers, a real feat. The dogs did cooperate most of the time but occasionally got a laugh from the crowd when they misbehaved a bit. The fashions they wore were from Saks Fifth Avenue. There was a winner of the Desert Handsome Hound photo contest which was Jack Schultz.

Eisenhower was the presenting sponsor. Susan Stein was the Fashion Show Producer, and Richard DeSantis was the event producer and model. The event started with a champagne reception followed by a delicious lunch. A video was shown about the programs and adoption events at the NO KILL shelter for abused and lost animals. It was a time to honor the two key founders for their love and devotion in starting this shelter. Grete Cox and Barbara Flanagan took to the stage to accept the award. They thanked all those who support and work for Animal Samaritans. The star of the show was a three-legged dog named Cleo who helped raise funds for Animal Samaritans.

Tips for a Pet-Friendly Vacation

(Family Features) Vacations can be perfect opportunities to spend quality time with the family. Whether it’s a quick weekend trip to visit relatives or a well-researched camping trip, inviting the whole family – including the four-legged family members – is possible. Not only can it make the trip more inclusive and fun, but planning a trip with pets can alleviate the stress and cost of finding a pet-sitter.

To help make cities more pet-friendly, Mars Petcare’s BETTER CITIES FOR PETS™ program is working to enact city policies that welcome pets in more places. For more tips to make your family vacation a pet-friendly affair, visit bettercitiesforpets.com.

Research Your Destination
When looking into a destination that includes the whole family, detailed research ahead of time can help prevent roadblocks that might arise due to pet restrictions. If your destination is negotiable, consider picking a city that’s been acclaimed for its pet-friendly policies. For example, Mars Petcare has recognized 42 cities as BETTER CITIES FOR PETS certified pet-friendly cities across the United States and Canada.

Make a Plan
Before leaving for your trip, book all accommodations to ensure your furry friend can coast by with no surprises. Check restaurant-booking services for pet-friendly patios and ensure hotels or accommodation rentals specify they’re open to pets. If you’re not sure where to start, try looking into locations with green spaces and no breed restrictions.

Keep It Consistent
To keep your furry friend as comfortable as possible, start with the basics. If your pet eats his or her meals at a designated time each day, keeping on schedule can be comforting in a new place. If your pet typically carries around a favorite toy, make sure it accompanies him or her on the trip. Keeping these routines with your pet can help the trip run smoothly.

Pack a Pet-Friendly Kit
Designate a suitcase or bag for your pet to help keep packing organized. Pack for day-to-day needs, like your furry friend’s meals and portable food and water bowls, as well as any medications your pet takes regularly. Anticipate any needs that may arise on the trip with a pet-friendly first-aid kit and make sure to take an up-to-date vaccination record with you.

Play It Safe
Before leaving home, ensure your pet is microchipped and the microchip data is up to date. Your pet’s collar should be safely secured and include current contact information on an ID tag. Labeling your pet’s crate with your name and contact information is also a good precaution if your pet will be on any form of public transportation with you.

Be Attentive
Your pet will experience your trip differently than the rest of the family. Make sure to keep an eye on him or her for any clues of discomfort. What may be a manageable temperature for you and the rest of family might be a bit much for thick-coated pets. The volume of the radio might be just right for humans, but it might be too much for sensitive pet ears. Keeping your four-legged friend in mind every step of the way can help ensure the trip is enjoyable for the whole family.


Photos courtesy of Adobe Stock

Mars Petcare


By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association Member Academy of Television Arts and Sciences

I’ve been asked over the years, “what is it that makes these British actors so good at what they do on stage or in the cinema?  Is it something in their drinking water or their food choices perhaps, or is it a cultural thing that sets them apart from their peers.

Shakespeare was indeed correct when he penned the words “the Plays’ the thing” over 450 years ago.  And, no, it’s not their water or food that gives them their abundance of rich acting talent.  It’s their dedication and unwavering commitment and discipline to their profession of acting that gives them an edge.  And it’s baked into their cultural DNA.

I honor talent and creativity knowing what both of those gifts can do for audiences.  I’m not too doctrinaire or picky either when it comes to where talent originates or resides. For me, performance is where the rubber meets the road period.

Which brings us to the great 84-year-old British actress Dame Glenda Jackson, who starred “Elizabeth is Missing,” an emotional and moving BBC/PBS TV film production centering around the frightening subject matter of dementia and how to deal with it; each in our own way. 

As an actor of uncommon talent and energy with a boatload of awards and trophies (two Tony Awards, two Emmy Awards several BAFTA awards, Golden Globe Awards and other honors, Glenda Jackson managed to take a hiatus from acting to “squeeze in” a 23-year career as a political member of Britain’s Parliament serving as a Labor MP.  

Following her retirement from government at age 80, Dame Glenda heard the siren call of her old acting days. As the saying goes, if one wants to get a job done, give it to a busy person.  Jackson still has the fire in the belly when it comes to energy along with the stamina required to go the distance in the physically demanding plays and TV movies she selects.

The lure of the theatre and films brought her back to her first love – the stage.  And she returned in 2016 with a vengeance playing Shakespeare’s most demanding role of King Lear in an astonishing-gender-bending, stamina-driven, brilliant performance.  She is known and most admired for her fearless, bold and ferocious performances – when they come along – in creating memorable characters and theatrical moments.   

Jackson’s dedication and loyalty to the play and to theatre, in general, is legendary.   When theatre discipline is discussed, she ranks among the best:  Olivier, Chaplin, Daniel Day Lewis, Judith Anderson, Peggy Ashcroft, and Leslie Manville, plus an illustrious list of British performers too numerous to mention here; who still practice their craft well into their 80’s.  In America, however, female actor careers are over at 50 or 60.

Apparently, in Hollywood, producers think there are no stories worth writing roles for elderly actors. The art of writing nowadays is very formulaic.  Good actors, however, need quality writing to soar in their performances.  I’ve been waiting for over ten years for a return to quality writing that playwright Tom Stoppard used to deliver to stages and movie screens.

In the U.K., stories are character-driven.  However, in the states, they’re action-driven, i.e., explosions, car chases, Half-humans, and robots causing mayhem are more in vogue thanks to today’s SyFy, dystopian-based locations that now boast more scenes by computer-generated imagery (CGI) than live actors, making these ‘technical gurus” the new “stars” of modern film productions.

Glenda Jackson at age 82 returned to the Broadway stage in playwright Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” (2018) winning another Tony Award.  Two years later she was nominated for her astonishing, gender-bending, stamina-driven performance as an addled King Lear in the throes of dementia.

2020 found the acting legend up to her old tricks of winning another BAFTA acting award.  This time she starred as Maud Horsham, an elderly woman struggling with dementia.  The subject matter may be fraught with old age issues; however, thanks to a spot-on cast of solid actors, the audience is drawn into this compelling, mystery/drama despite its off-putting subject matter.

 None-the-less, the performances are just sublime, especially Glenda Jackson.  One has the sense that one is eavesdropping on a real person/patient session as to what the patient/person is experiencing with their memory issues. The 97-minute poignant movie that in the future may come calling on you or me, it might help in understanding the plight of ageing in the 21st Century. 

“Elizabeth is Missing” is sensitively and empathetically directed by Aisling Walsh, with a screenplay by Andrea Gibb, from a story by Emma Heney.  Lucas Strebal is the Cinematographer, and the TV movie is edited by Alex Mackie.  

The film debuted on PBS, January 4, 2021.  Check your local TV guide for the date and time of its next screening.  It’s worth the wait.

And remember, a great nation deserves great art.  Support all the arts.



A personal observation on American filmmaking exceptionalism

By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

When the movie “Casablanca” merged the powerful elements of love, war, and destiny in 1942, the film and its producers never saw the phenomenal appeal or its success coming until it won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1943.  Seventy-seven years later it still deserves a shout-out for American filmmaking exceptionalism.

It seems the world can never get enough stories about romance, loves won and lost, exciting adventures or the drama of the human condition. Even with its flaws and its foibles laid bare, such stories keep tugging us into this intriguing, exciting, complicated short journey we call life but it doesn’t explain where we came from, why we’re here or where we are going. 

It’s not only profound, it’s a little scary when one thinks about it.  No wonder the world is constantly in a state of flux, chaos, and uncertainty.  The best medium for me in bringing some sense of understanding and clarity to life’s unanswered questions has been the cinema.

“Casablanca” starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid, as one of the best examples of American filmmaking.  The story encompassed a unique entertainment value amid the potent and poignant backdrop of World War II.  It allowed Americans, for the first time, to see others through the lenses of empathy and their fight for a just and good cause, pitting the Allies – America, England, France, and Russia – against the Axis powers – Germany, Japan and Italy.     

Americans have always prided themselves as being a nation of rugged individualists.  We believe that with our love of freedom, our love of country, and our love of democracy, anything is possible.  All we need to do is put our minds, muscles, and money in motion and we become invincible. We are a nation of optimists, but also a nation of nationalists.  The pressure to keep America neutral and out of “Europe’s War” was extremely intense.  Yet we still admire the qualities and characteristics of our Wild West history and those non-conforming individuals who loved doing things their way. 

“Casablanca” came along in American cinema at just the right time.  Before John Wayne ‘won’ WW II on the silver screens of the country, this relevant and significant movie produced by Warner Brothers, helped explain America’s necessity for entering the war and did so with honesty, style, and a wonderfully patriotic script.  Deftly directed by Michael Curtiz, featuring  a brilliant cast, the movie  would go on to win the Best Picture Oscar of 1943, also winning Best Screenplay Oscar statuettes for twin brothers Julian and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch.

The timeless romantic war story made a huge international star of journeyman actor Humphrey Bogart, who was used to playing hard-boiled tough guys, convicts, and outsiders in B movies.  However, his luminous young Swedish co-star, Ingrid Bergman, was already an established and accomplished actor in Europe and England. Her beauty and his talent made them an acceptable romantic on-screen couple, despite their age gap (he was 42 and she was 27).  Bergman would go on to win three Academy Awards; Bogart would win only one.  Handsome leading man Paul Henried, the ‘other man’ in this love-triangle, would later go on to woo Bette Davis in “Now Voyager”, another Warner Brothers romantic film directed, once again, by Michael Curtiz.

The genesis of “Casablanca” began as the love-child of playwrights Murray Bennet and Joan Alison who wrote an unproduced stage play called “ Everybody Goes to Rick’s” which they couldn’t sell to Broadway.  However, savvy movie producer Hal B. Wallis got a hold of the stage-script and thought with changes it would make a wonderful and much needed World War II propaganda movie. He bought the film rights from Bennet and Alison for $20,000, then a princely sum of money for an unproduced stage play.

Many extraordinary and wonderful films were produced during the height of Hollywood’s Golden Age when the studio system was in its full glory.  Producer Wallis enjoyed the freedom of the Warner Brothers backlot that was overflowing with actors, writers, producers, directors, and movie technicians. It afforded him the luxury to cast his movie directly from the studio’s list of long-term contract players, many who fled Europe earlier to England and America as immigrants when Hitler became Germany’s Chancellor in 1933.

The now-rewritten movie script by the Epstein brothers and Koch depicted Rick Blaine as a cynical American, ex-pat soldier of fortune with a mysterious past who settled in Casablanca, French Morocco running his own cabaret and gambling casino called Rick’s Café Americain. 

The heart of the story, revolved around Rick and his struggle to decide whether to help his former lover Ilsa Lund (Bergman) and her Czech husband Victor Lazlo (Henreid), a wanted underground resistance leader on the run from the Nazi government, to escape from Casablanca to America and continue the fight against the Axis powers.  It’s obvious that both men are in love with the same beautiful woman.  The burning question for audiences was which man will win Isa’s heart in the end?  Rick, the exciting soldier of fortune she met and fell in love with in pre-war Paris or Victor, the dedicated and committed leader for the cause of freedom. 

Rick’s was frequented by the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy of those fleeing the war in Europe seeking passage to the safety of America.  Casablanca was a melting pot of characters who conducted negotiations for coveted travel visas by black market profiteers, all under the watchful eye of ‘mildly-corrupt’ French Prefect of Police Captain Louis Renault, brilliantly played by charming character actor Claude Rains.  Renault never met an attractive female seeking an exit visa that didn’t require his special personal attention – validating the practice of “quid pro quo” that has been a powerful negotiating force since the world began.

Producer Wallis knew he had a solid film on his hands when he saw the early footage from Curtiz.  Only generations later would everyone realize that the film was made, not only to help defeat Nazism and Fascism, but that it also told a wartime love story that resonated with practically everyone; as a result “Casablanca” has been a consistent Top Ten movie in fan popularity polls for more than seven decades.  American Film Institute’s (AFI) Top 100 Films List of All Time ranks it as number three.

“Casablanca” is a master class on how to write a successful screenplay.  Most films back in the 1940s ran about 90 minutes.  There wasn’t a lot of time spent on exposition or explaining character development for audiences.  Writers learned quickly that they had to grab the audience both emotionally and viscerally to guide them as to whom to root for or whom to dislike in the story.  In Westerns, for example, if the character kicked a slinking dog crossing the dusty main street at night, that would be your “heavy” regardless if he was wearing a black hat or not.  Character not costumes informed the screenplay.  In more modern settings it is the action or reaction that defines the “good guy”. 

In “Casablanca”, Rick jealously guarded his past life, opting outwardly to not pick sides in the wars raging in Europe and Asia.  He claimed he was just a saloon keeper trying to make a living.  “I stick my neck out for nobody” was his standard working class-type reply when the police made an occasional arrest in his nightclub.  But Rick; was never personally involved in illegal activities. He was ‘clean’ as far as the authorities were concerned. 

Bogart was the perfect choice to portray Rick.  He brought his cynical, rough-around-the edges-vocal quality and the street smarts of a take-charge guy when needed.  He’s the sort of man that men liked and he had a vulnerability that women found attractive.  It may be hard to believe now, but studio head Jack Warner, seriously thought at one time that actor Ronald Reagan would be a perfect Rick.  After all, Warner was alleged to have said “we’ve got him under a long term contract.”  Producer Wallis said just one word – “Bogart”.  And the rest thankfully is history.

And what was not to like about Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund?  Her on-screen luminosity was breathtaking, her acting skills spoke for themselves, and the camera adored her – it was a slam dunk decision!

Rick always appeared aloof and indifferent about what went on inside his cabaret and private casino.  But he was keenly aware of the intrigues and illegal dealings that took place, but his public stance was just a smokescreen to mask his idealistic side.  He ran guns to Ethiopia and fought alongside the Spanish Republican/Loyalists against Spain’s Fascist dictator Francisco Franco in the 1930s.  He had a strict rule of never sitting with his patrons at their tables, but he made sure that Captain Renault always won at roulette, as well as having complete carte blanche in the dining room with a tab that he rarely paid. 

At one point in the film, Captain Renault is forced to close Rick’s for a short period, following an incident involving the cafe’s French patrons and their spirited rendition of their national anthem to the displeasure of dining German officers.  German Major Strasser demands that the café be immediately closed down.  Rick quickly finds Renault among the departing patrons to ask why his café was being closed.  Renault replies with mock anger, “I’m shocked, shocked, to find out that gambling is going on here”, all the while stuffing his pockets with his roulette winnings that are being personally delivered by Rick’s croupier. “Casablanca” is a very rich source for what we now call clichés.  However, back in 1943, it was just called clever dialogue from a team of very sharp and talented screenwriters.

I have yet to see and hear character dialogue in any movie that so quickly and succinctly captures the male essence, confidence, and power of the Ricks of the world, especially when dealing with women.  The ‘discovery shot’ that introduces Rick to the audience occurs about four minutes into the film. Yvonne, a neglected former lover of Rick, enters.  She walks slowly past him, seated alone at his private table, and asks him tentatively “Where were you last night?”  “That’s so long ago I can’t remember.”  “Will I see you tonight?” “I never make plans that far ahead.”  Rick’s brush-off dialogue is delivered in a bored monotone without ever looking up at Yvonne.  The curt exchange only lasts about 10 seconds but it speaks volumes about Rick’s character.  He’s direct, crafty but trustworthy and very resourceful.  Talk about a power trip of male ego and confidence!  

“Casablanca” takes place during the early stages of WW II and is put in motion by Peter Lorre as Ugarte, a petty criminal who often frequents Rick’s.  When the news that two German couriers carrying important documents have been found murdered on their way to Casablanca, the event sends the police and the black market into a frenzy of searches for those missing documents. The fact they are “irrevocable” exit visas’ authorized and signed by French General Charles De Gaulle, suddenly makes them priceless to many interested parties.  Ugarte, asks Rick to hide his stolen documents for safe keeping with Rick replying in a steely voice that said he didn’t want them in the club overnight for obvious reasons.  His club would be the first place to be searched by the German occupiers. When Ugarte presses Rick, he reluctantly agrees, but just for one night.

As the story unfolds, we also learn via a flashback montage that Rick and Ilsa were lovers in pre-war Paris.  Again, a love triangle plot set against the backdrop of World War II just upped the ante of the plot points of intrigue and riveting suspense that viewers relished then and still do today.  

Sidney Greenstreet, Dooley Wilson, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall, Leonid Kinskey, Marcel Dalio, John Qualen, Joy Paige and Helmut Dantine play indelible, memorable supporting characters.   All are fine actors who brought a wealth of experience, authenticity and charm to their nicely nuanced performances.  When appropriately leavened with light comedic moments, charm is always a welcomed ingredient in good screen stories. 

Some movie viewers of today might find the film a little old fashioned with values we rarely honor in our dystopian-based movies nowadays.  Many of these films, however, are ‘computer generated imagery’ (CGI) produced creations: car chases, shoot-outs, and action sequences are now, technically, the “stars” of today’s films.  Additionally, many of these films rely on a ton of “F-bomb-laden dialogue as a way of telling the story.  Back in the day, moviemaking relied more on actor talent and subtlety of performance and less on high-octane action scenes and movie director excesses.  

Hungarian born film director Michael Curtiz was a master of large cast movies and an expert at telling stories and films set in Europe.  His “Casablanca” brims with many brilliant directorial touches too numerous to mention here. The screenplay is an excellent example of the collaborative effort between the writers and the director that is so necessary for good films to become great films. 

My major concern now is whether future top-tier character-driven movies will become an endangered species. The industry is struggling for relevancy right now; it’s on life support thanks to cultural and societal changes along with streaming platforms vying for product exposure and income.  Then, COVID-19 pandemic arrived placing everyone and everything in a holding pattern until 2021.

“Casablanca” reruns, however, are still keeping its audiences fully engaged just as it has been doing for the last seven decades. I’m glad to learn it’s been embraced by younger modern audiences too.   One would think an older, senior audience would be its largest demographic, but not necessarily so.  This wonderfully enduring movie still remains one of Hollywood’s all-time favorites across all age groups.

Do yourself a favor if the opportunity presents itself:  Enjoy one more time the magic of Hollywood’s Golden Age of filmmaking with its memorable moments, dramatic scenes, and nostalgia-fueled dialogue from ”Casablanca” that Bogie and other actors forever immortalized.  Who could forget Captain Renault’s memorable “Round up the usual suspects”, or Rick’s drunken lamentation, “Of all the gin joints of all the towns in all the world, she has to walk into mine.”  Just sublime stuff.

Then there’s the exquisitely poignant and iconic exchange between Rick and IIsa on that foggy tarmac late at night when a plane awaits to take her and Victor to America.  In one impassioned speech, Rick lays out the ultimate rationale for supporting the Allied cause and steps up to the moral plate to remind Ilsa of her destiny.  His achingly tender reminder that “We’ll always have Paris…” and his parting comment “Here’s looking at you kid” have been seared into the memories of moviegoers across the world for decades.  This kind of romantically-inspired writing is what sets “Casablanca” apart from other hallmark films in Hollywood’s pantheon of cinematic classics accompanied by the perfect, iconic, leitmotif song, “As Time Goes By”. 

It’s the one film that stays firmly lodged in my heart and the hearts of passionate cinephiles and ardent aficionados of romantic films like “Casablanca” forever.


By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

When theatre aficionados and scholars gather to think about the origins of the western art form we call ‘the theatre’, they often harken back to the ancient Greeks and their culture to see how far their creation has evolved over some twenty seven centuries.  Homer’s two major literary works or poems are “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, with “Iliad” being written first.  It may be skimpy when compared to Shakespeare’s canon but its impact none-the-less, has been enormous to the art form of storytelling over the centuries.

 In 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic caused all entertainment venues to become more creative when it came to following CDC guidelines concerning the pandemic.  Traditional theatre audiences morphed into film format viewers.  Live theatre audiences became a No-No. The world of brick and mortar venues went silent, however, most live theatres still honor the theatrical tradition of keeping a ‘ghost-light’ burning through the night (tradition and superstition runs deep in show business).  

Undaunted, North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT) began to mount productions on its theatre stage and then capture the story and the action on film, to be seen at a later time in a streaming movie format.  Challenging times for the actors, the technical staff and the absent audience you wonder?  You bet!  But creative artists like actors, directors and producers thrive in such situations.

NCRT latest foray into filmed stage plays which ‘opened’ on December 9th is streaming the play “An Iliad” through January 3, 2021.  The play, freely, adapted, by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare from ancient Greek playwright Homer, creates a modern dress production of Homer’s “Iliad’.  Deftly directed by savvy NCRT artistic director David Ellenstein, “An Iliad” stars award winning actor Richard Baird in a powerful, mesmerizing, tour-de-force, performance that leaves the streaming home audience in a state of awe.

His jaw-dropping solo performance keeps the viewer completely engaged and enthralled as he relives the nine year-old Trojan War saga without ever leaving the stage in its 93 minute production.  Baird, an accomplished actor-director in his own right, runs the gamut of emotions from rage to irony to light humor, to the horrors and folly of war; playing all the parts in Homer’s epic saga The Trojan War.

The story revolves around three classic Greek events: the kidnapping of Queen Helen of Sparta by Troy; the great battles between Grecian and feared warrior Achillies and Hector of Troy, the greatest warrior of the Trojan army in a test  as to which side will prevail in their attempts to rescue and return Helen to her husband in Sparta. Or will Hector of Troy win the siege therefore keeping Helen in Troy with Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy.

The chemistry between theatre and film director Ellenstein and actor Richard Baird is palpable as each compliments the gifts of the other; with the audience being the beneficiaries of their rich collaboration.  North Coast Rep’s bold, and enlightened, adaptation of Homer’s “Iliad” explores the nobility, savagery and the valor of the battles while insightfully revealing the human cost of war over the centuries.  I would even go so far as to offer “An Iliad” as the first anti-war movement story to confront the perfidy of those who profit from war.  And yet, we humans continue to ignore the efficacy and truth of history.  But, I digress.

Ellenstein’s “An Iliad”, despite the play’s gruesome references, is filled with modern language when it’s spoken by Baird in a sort of interlocutory-styled “asides” in their delivery.  His deep, modulated, baritone voice keeps the viewer fully enthralled.  His asides to the viewer are sly, amusing, and refreshing, in that they lend authenticity to the story and events that concerned Homer back in Eighth century BC Greece sadly, still plague world societies in the 21st century.

Ancient Greek culture was rife with God-like references, myths, and polytheism.  Statuary depicted some gods as half human and half animal even fish, or birds dominated their spiritual and societal lives where practically everyone prayed to multiple gods much like the Egyptians when it was an important request.  Times haven’t really changed all that much when it comes to asking for additional help with a problem, no matter the religion or the importance of the supplicant.  And the beat goes on …

Kudos to North Coast Repertory Theatre for selecting a relatively unknown play to produce for their audiences during the time of a worldwide pandemic, which for now, must be seen by audiences via collaboration with their sister art-forms of film and television.

In the technical department, NCRT Set Design wizard Marty Burnett celebrates his two hundredth design for the Solana Beach Equity theatre.   NCRT artisans who make this outstanding production a must see experience under the direction of David Ellenstein are: designer Marty Burnett with his spare but functional set, Aaron Rumley’s smooth cinematography and editing, along with camera assistant and editor Christopher Williams. 

Cellist Amanda Schaar provides the musical accompaniment throughout the performance.  The choice of the cello is a nice touch. Cello’s deliver just the right amount of melancholy that serves as the spot-on leitmotif that pervades this excellent production.

For tickets on how to view “An Iliad”, go online to: www. northcoastrep.org.  

Remember, a great nation deserves great art.  Support all the Arts!  


Theatre and Film Critic Member American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) Member Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS)

In the sometime labyrinthine and complicated world of art and paintings for sale of the great masters over the centuries, it is easy to get lost in the authenticity, and/or forgery issues, plus ownership claims that occur when money blends with desire on the part of collectors, museums, and the prestige that comes to the owners of such art treasures.    

Following World War II, the Allies created commissions to insure the return to the rightful owners of the art masterpieces that had been stolen and hidden by the Nazis during the war years.

“The Last Vermeer”, a TriStar Pictures film based on the book “The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez, opened in over 800 ‘live’ theatres on November 20, 2020; centers around one such court case and trial reparation event in the Netherlands in 1945. 

The War in Europe ended with VE Day, May 8, 1945.  Over 23, 000,000 European civilians perished.  Collaborators were being executed in public squares in cities all over Europe. The survivors from Nazi-occupied countries began seeking revenge on the collaborators and war profiteers.  Passions were out of control as public executions by government officials were taking place in public squares throughout Europe.  

Long-time American hands-on producer Dan Friedkin, now a first-time film director, brings to the screen the probing and dramatic story of the notorious 20th-century Dutch art dealer, painter, hedonist, aesthete Han van Meergeren, who sold Dutch art treasures to Hermann Goring and other high ranking Nazis during the war years making millions in his dealings with the Nazis.

Reverence for the Netherlands Golden Age of Dutch masters practically borders on being a religion in Holland.  Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, and Pieter de Hooch are but three giant names that quickly come to mind. The Dutch style of painting in the ‘Golden Age’, inspired new lighting techniques for 17th-century Dutch painters who credit Rembrandt and his style, of creating and capturing in his brush strokes the skill and magic that influenced painters that followed for generations to come.

The story in short is set in Amsterdam in 1945.  Canadian Captain Joseph Piller, a Dutch Jew, who fought in the Resistance during the War, is stoically underplayed by Danish actor Claes Bang.  The witty Bon vivant art dealer Han van Meergren is sensationally portrayed by Australian actor Guy Pearce, in a highly nuanced bravura performance that should nab him acting nominations from several festivals from countries where the film will be screened (despite the pandemic).

After WW II ended in 1945, Piller becomes an investigator for the Allied Commissions assigned to the task of identifying and redistributing stolen art, resulting in Dutch art dealer Van Meergaren being accused of collaboration – a crime that brings a death penalty if convicted.

But, despite mounting evidence, Piller, with the aid of his assistant Minna Holberg, played by well known, wonderful, European actor Vicky Krieps, (who is wasted in a small role in this film), becomes increasingly convinced of Van Meergren’s innocence, finding himself in the unlikely position of fighting to save his life (Shades of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher in the eponymous 2012 action movie).  Solid supporting turns come from Roland Moller as Piller’s security enforcer and aide Esper Vesser and  Adrian Scarborough as Dirk Hannema, the art critic expert as a witness for the prosecution in Van Meergaren’s trial for collaborating with the Germans.

Movies about art heists (“The Thomas Crown Affair” with Steve McQueen and its later re-do with Pierce Brosnan had a certain sophistication and style to their storylines.  “The Last Vermeer”, however, is a richly textured film set in post-war ravaged Europe.  There no glamour there just the appropriate grit and destruction that the legacy and folly of war provides.   Non-the-less the technical credits along with the performances are first-rate.

The production design by Arthur Max brilliantly recreates Amsterdam of 1945 both externally and internally.  The courtroom and trial sequences have the ring of authenticity as do the period costumes of Guy Speranza. I always find the courtroom dramas fascinating in the rules and the cultural differences in Europe from our American and English court systems. 

Director Dan Friedkin and his cinematographer Remi Adefarasin, have spiced up the film with creative camera angles and movement. Unfortunately, for me, the script by James McGee, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby is the weakest link in this production that had promise of being a serious candidate for box office success by the nature and the appeal of its premise and its subject matter.  

However, the final arbiter of success in the film business is always the audience. Small stories produced by independent filmmakers have a way of becoming big box office when the planets are appropriately aligned.  In 1955 relatively unknown supporting actor Ernest Borgnine and the intimate film “Marty”, walked away with Oscars for Best Actor and Best picture. As Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman once famously said about Hollywood “nobody knows anything.”  The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. So check out “The Last Vermeer” for yourself.

And remember, a great nation deserves great art.  Support all the arts!