Saturday, September 23, 2017

Interview with Time Alone's Tonya Pinkins

Belle Rêve Theatre Company (Executive Producer Michelle M. Núñez, Producers Suzanne Warren and Tanya Cohen) presents their inaugural production of Time Alone a World Premiere by Alessandro Camon (Academy Award nominee “The Messenger”) starring Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins (Jelly’s Last Jam, Caroline or Change, ABC Scandal) and Alex Hernandez (Peter and the Starcatcher, Richard III NYC Public Theatre Mobile Unit), at Theatre 2, Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S Spring Street Los Angeles, September 30 to October 29 .

The production is helmed by award-winning director Bart DeLorenzo (Geffen Playhouse Stage Kiss, Death of the Author; Founding Artistic Director Evidence Room). Time Alone is presented in association with The Latino Theatre Company.

Time Alone traces the parallel journeys of a young man convicted of killing a gang rival, and a woman whose son - a police officer - is murdered in the line of duty. Both end up in places of extreme loneliness — a solitary confinement prison cell, and the silent house of the bereaved.  As time itself seems to unravel, their tales both contrast and mirror each other, providing answers to each other's questions — until they find new doors to life.

Pinkins took time out of her busy rehearsal schedule to talk to us about the play and aspects of her stage career.

Tell us about Time Alone and your character in it. 
Time Alone is a poetically powerful piece by Alessandro Camon which explores the power of pain, connection, and forgiveness

What are your challenges as an actor?
My greatest challenge as an actor is (getting)opportunities to work on material and with collaboratives who match the skill and experience I have acquired as working professional for 42 years. I'm always seeking to challenge myself to do something I haven't ever done. To risk failing.

Talk a bit about Jelly's Last Jam. Lots of ups, I'm sure. Was it one of the happiest times of your life professionally?
Jelly's Last Jam was one of the unhappiest times of my life. Winning a Tony Award was a cherry on a crap cake. My husband had me served with divorce papers in the fan line at the stage door. I lost custody of my kids and essentially walked away from my career to fight to be in my children's lives.

Caroline or Change is a 100% turn around. Talk a bit about this play and what it did for you. What did you like best about it?
Caroline or Change was the most thrilling piece of theater I've ever gotten to be a part of. Everything about the collaboration with all the actors, designers, crew , at The Public, on Broadway, in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London was miraculous. The best part was working with people who were ALL at the top of their game and I had to constantly, work to live up to all the brilliance around me.

Do you prefer musicals to plays or does it matter?
I like variety. I would not be happy doing the same anything for too long. I crave the new, the different, the unexplored, the risky, the stuff that might fail.

Anything else you care to add?
Time Alone is a gift to the audience, like Caroline or Change it is a rare moment in the theater where artists bare their truths and their souls in all the beauty and ugliness. The invitation to the audience is to meet us there and experience a genuine to GOD via an authentic connection with another human being. To witness genuine pain and suffering without moving to fix it or fade it. I pray people will come and meet us at least halfway.

Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre 2 is located at  514 S Spring Street Los Angeles. Previews begin Saturday September 30. Opening Night is Saturday, October 7.  Performances on sale through October 29.
For tickets go to: or or call 213-489-0994

(photo credit: Kayt Jones)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Interview with Kevin Chesley

KEVIN CHESLEY has directed, written and performed sketch comedy for stages like Upright Citizens Brigade (LA and NYC), The iO (Chicago and West), and the Vancouver Comedy Festival. He is a co-founder of TROOP! and The Riot Act, troupes that have performed in venues like The Comedy Central Stage, The HBO Workspace, and The Chicago Improv Festival. For ten years he has directed The Apple Sisters, a staged 1943 radio show that very much helped prepare him to dive into the 1935 world of The 39 Steps. He was also a director for The Hampstead Players Theater Company.  A screenwriter, Kevin has written for The Onion, National Lampoon, and MTV’s “The Hard Times of RJ Berger,” as well as screenplays for Warner Brothers, Paramount, Bad Robot, Happy Madison, and 20th Century Fox. He has Executive Produced pilots for both NBC and Cartoon Network. Training:  Act One – Hollywood, BFA – Emerson College. He is currently directing The 39 Steps for Actors Co-op about to open Friday September 22.

Written by Steve Peterson

When did you start directing and what was the play?  What did you learn from that first experience as a director that still holds true today?

I started in Children’s Theatre, directing an Intro to Shakespeare show and A Christmas Carol for The Hampstead Players, a touring company based out of Center Barnstead, New Hampshire. You learn fast when entertaining kids that you can’t be boring for a split second or they’ll be just as happy to do snow angels on the cafeteria floor during Hamlet’s blah blah blah… the same is (and should be) true for adults. Don’t be boring. That’s any storyteller’s Job Number One.

Did you have a mentor or mentors along the way, and if so who and how did they encourage you?

I direct for three amazing actors called The Apple Sisters (shout out to Kimmy Gatewood, Sarah Lowe, and Rebekka Johnson!). Their shows are crazy locomotives – staged 40s era radio plays that always change on a dime in the name of keeping moments fresh and giving a show a madcap sense of play. The 39 Steps pulses with that same energy. Those three have taught me so much about how to fearlessly make the show a ride for both the audience and the performers. I’m honored and encouraged that they place such faith in me to direct their vibrant whirlwind. (Don’t tell them I call them “mentors,” though. They’ll make fun of me without mercy.)

You have quite a background in improvisational theatre.  What are you able to draw from that experience that enhances your process of directing?

My particular background is sketch comedy. I’m a writer - so I work best with a script - but what great improv and strong sketches have in common are clear games at the center of every scene. Find that game. Make it clear. Milk it for all that it’s worth. It’s the engine under every moment, whether made up on the fly or tapped out on a laptop.

Tell us a bit about the play.

This play is bonkers. I loved it on first read. It’s such a send up of the thriller genre while still popping with comedy of every stripe: classic physical routines, blunt parody, sharp satire, and some downright bad jokes so no one takes anything too seriously. BUT, it also carries a man’s soul in the center – the stakes are huge for the world, as well as his heart. Walking that edge while still staying hilarious is a wonder to read, watch, and direct.

What is up next for you in regards to writing and directing?

I’m currently working on two feature scripts: one a Vegas romp for Paramount Pictures, and the other an action comedy for Lorne Michael’s Broadway Video. Check for info on their Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas shows - ‘round the holidays it gets nice and busy (holy cats, it’s almost the holidays…).

Is there anything you wish to add?

What was it that made this show possible? I directed the thing, sure, but not without four ultra heroic actors, my brilliant designers, producers beyond parallel, awesome PR, Tintin working magic in the shadows, and Derek the Stage Manager bringing the whole shebang together. THANK YOU to the Actors Co-op for the opportunity. Directors dream of such a team… but I actually got to work with one.

The Actors Co-op Theatre Company opens its 26 Season with The 39 Steps. The play previews September 21 at 8:00 pm.  Runs September 22 - October 29.   Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm.   Saturday Matinees: September 30 and October 7 at 2:30 pm.  Tickets: $30.00.  Seniors (60+): $25.00.  Students: $20.00.  Group rates available for parties of 6 or more. To buy tickets or make reservations please visit or call (323) 462-8460.  Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre. 1760 N. Gower St. 90028 (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) in Hollywood.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Spotlight on Stupid Kid Director Cameron Watson

The Road Theatre on Magnolia is proud to present a world premiere play by Sharr White entitled Stupid Kid. After 14 years in prison for a crime he swears he didn’t commit, Chick returns home to find his flat-broke family under the thumb of his dangerous Unclemike. A rollicking Gothic Western tale of a family isolated by shame, Stupid Kid explores power, guilt and the limits of maternal love. The play begins previews on Saturday, September 16 at 8pm and has its official opening on Friday, September 22 at 8pm running through Sunday, November 12 at the Road Theatre on Magnolia.

Each week we will spotlight members of the cast and/or creative team. This week we take pride in placing Stupid Kid’s director Cameron Watson centerstage.

Heralded by The Los Angeles Times as “one of our finest contemporary directors,” Watson began his professional career in New York City studying acting with the legendary Herbert Berghof at HB Studio. He soon landed the starring role in the original production of Horton Foote’s The Widow Claire at Circle in the Square, replacing Matthew Broderick, which led to a lifelong relationship and collaboration with Mr. Foote, as well as a successful and enduring acting career. Watson's triumphant revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat On a Hot Tin Roof recently closed a sell-out run at Antaeus Theatre Company.  He is a true Renaissance man: a director, a filmmaker, a teacher and an actor.

What is your perspective of the play? Tell us about the message and what it offers the audience.
Stupid Kid is a very unexpected play about unexpected people and an unusual situation that we very rarely see in the theatre. These folks are Gothic Western Colorado working class folks. They had a very loving lower-middle class existence as a family once, and now they have nothing. Literally.  Barely food. No money, no income. No family. A son imprisoned for fourteen years. And on this particular day, no phone, as it has been cut off. I was drawn to this play because of these people. When I first read it, I laughed out loud at them, I was in amazement of how they treated each other, I laughed even more, and then, all of the sudden, I wept for them. I saw their damaged hearts and I wept. They want what they had before. And the fact that they can't have it truly broke my heart.

How does the playwright achieve his goal via his various characters? Does he involve them in an especially fascinating way?

Sharr's execution of these characters in this play is extraordinary. It is rare to be able to laugh, then be offended, then be blindsided, then to care deeply about a character. In one scene alone he manages to give each of them such fully rounded dimension, it blows me away. They exist. They breathe and sweat and hurt and fall apart and pick themselves up.

Talk about your cast.

You hope above hope that your cast is perfect and that they bond and that they form the ensemble that is on the page and in the playwright's mind and heart. And boy, these six actors that I am blessed to have certainly do all of that, and much more. Casting is everything. The cliche is true. But when you get it right? Oh, man - it makes my job so much easier. I have the expertise of brilliantly seasoned pros like Taylor Gilbert, Joe Hart, Rob Nagle and Michelle Gillette, and then these two new, young discoveries in Allison Blaize and Ben Theobald. They are the real thing. Their skill, to be as young as they are, is jaw dropping. I think, no, actually I know, I have two new shining stars on my hands here.

Anything you care to add?

This play will surprise you and catch you off guard. It will make you laugh hard. It will shock you. And it will make you clutch your heart.

Stupid Kid plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through November 12. The Road on Magnolia is located in The NoHo Senior Arts Colony at 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. There is plenty of street parking available.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

2017 Interview with Director Larry Eisenberg

Director/Actor/Writer LARRY EISENBERG earned his MFA from CalArts, received a DramaLogue Award for the world premiere adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Stories for Children and has directed numerous productions at GRT. His favorites include The Poor of New York, Trip to Bountiful, Over the River and Through the Woods and his original play, Nautilus, which was later turned into a feature film. He currently serves as one of the two co-artistic directors at the Group Rep. He is currently directing Lost in Yonkers at Group rep which will have its official opening Friday, September 8.

Written by Steve Peterson

When you and Chris Winfield were putting together the Group Rep’s 2016-2017 Season, what drew you to this particular Neil Simon play? How does it fit into the overall theme of the season, “why do people do the things they do? … explore the reasons and rhymes of these creatures called human beings.”

Lost in Yonkers has always been one of my favorite Neil Simon plays. Sometimes he doesn’t get the respect he deserves because he is so very funny and people take him for granted. I think the public thinks that’s all there is to his work. There’s a reason he’s so successful and popular and it’s not just because he knows how to be funny and create entertainment. "Yonkers" won a Pulitzer Prize and I think it’s well deserved. There's a great deal of humor but also profound tenderness and insight into human behavior. Obviously, we thought it would do good box office and that was one of the considerations in selecting it for our season. We also felt that it was something we could cast well from within our company.

One interesting thing about the play is the fascinating array of multi-dimensional characters. These people are damaged and each one has his or her own emotional and personal baggage. Despite these issues, they care intensely about each other and ultimately form a tight family unit that brings salvation and healing to each of them. As Uncle Louie says, "There's nothing like family, boys. The one place in the world you're safe is with your family."

You trained and work as an actor. When did you start directing and what was the play? What did you learn from that first experience as a director that still holds true today?

Actually some of my first professional work was as a director. Right after undergraduate school, I wrote a political piece about the Berrigan Brothers and the Vietnam War. It had a great run in Baltimore and then toured colleges throughout the East Coast. From that I got hired to direct a rock musical inappropriately named Can’t Stop Now! We opened at the Anderson Theatre on 2nd Avenue in New York right after Oh! Calcutta! closed there. I guess this would have been around 1970. The New York Times headline read: “Can’t Stop Now Should!” And we did. Oh! Calcutta! had a record 1314 performances. We lasted 7.

I think the biggest thing I learned was to keep things simple. You’ve got a story; just tell it and don’t waste a lot of time trying to make it fancy.

After Can’t Stop Now I worked as an actor at Center Stage in Baltimore, then came to California and focused primarily on my acting. Over the years, I did direct several plays but did not decide to commit to directing until 1995 when I enrolled in the MFA Directing program at the California Institute of Arts. That's when my relationship started with Jules Aaron who was my mentor and head of the directing program there.

How did that relationship develop and were there any others?

I probably served as his Assistant Director a half dozen times over the years. Jules taught me the importance of starting with a solid floor plan. Jules is a brilliant Dramaturg, probably the best I've ever known, and he always reinforced the need to "tell the story." Everything else is incidental.

At CalArts there was also a program called DTVC, Directing for Theatre, Video and Cinema. Much of the focus was storytelling and writing. A man named Lou Florimonte headed that program and I worked very closely with him. The lesson from Lou was that words were the absolute last thing you needed to work on. He encouraged me to approach everything like a silent movie. Work with the people and the behavior. The spoken word can wait.

And, of course, Lonny Chapman. I acted opposite Lonny several times and was directed by him at least 3 or 4 times. I directed Chaim's Love Song during Lonny's last year. His health was quickly deteriorating but he still managed to come and see the show 8 times. Chaim's was the last show Lonny saw at the GRT.

Tell us a bit about Lost in Yonkers.

It's about family love. The play takes place in 1942 and focuses on two young boys who are sent to live with their no-nonsense grandmother for 10 months. They're not happy to be there and she's not particularly happy to have them. Grandma Kurnitz is harsh, demanding and completely unsentimental. Yet somehow a bond and understanding develops between these people, probably because of the sweetness and challenges of their child-like Aunt Bella.

What would you like the audience to take away from having seen the play, something to reflect on?
At the end of the play, Grandma Kurnitz tells her grandson Jay, "You want to hear what my truth is? Everything hurts. Whatever it is you get good in life, you also lose something." Jay says, "I guess I'm too young to understand that," and Grandma says, "And I'm too old to forget it."

The Group Rep’s production of Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning comedic drama LOST IN YONKERS runs September 8 – October 22. Opens, Friday – September 8 at 8:00 pm. Plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:00 pm. Talk-back Sundays are Sept. 17 and October 8. Tickets: $25. Students/Seniors with ID: $20. Groups 10+: $15. Buy tickets: or Reservations Line: (818) 763-5990. Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601. Free street parking. The theatre is located on the first floor, is wheelchair accessible, and has AC/Heat.