December 25, 2019 Radomir Vojtech Luza

Review of The Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of the world premiere of “A Twisted Christmas Carol” by Phil Olson Upstairs in The Lonny Chapman Theatre

v

If you are interested in a Texas spoof of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol,” run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s world premiere of “A Twisted Christmas Carol” by Phil Olson running Upstairs on  
the second floor of The Lonny Chapman Theatre of The Group Repertory Theatre in The North Hollywood Arts District through January 12th.
This is the story of Buford Johnson, a barbecue joint owner in a small town in West Texas who has an accident in his pickup truck and ends up in a coma on Christmas Eve where he is visited by 
ex-business partner Hank Walker, who plays the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.
This play with non-stop hilarity punctuated by heartfelt sincerity is nothing but genuine honesty amid ever-present lunacy.
The down home warmth and charm power a manic energy that proves infectious and addictive during the two hour show..
The writing is colorful, original and tight, helping us, the audience, understand not only Texas, but the world as a playground of female karma, male genitalia and human regalia.  The Second Act, especially, brings us, the audience, the redeeming power of love.  The rapping late in the act is a highlight of the play for this critic.
This is the perfect comedy for the Me Too Movement, combining the strength and focus of female intuition with the passion and emotion of marriage, longing and true redemption.
Like a Filet Mignon, the language is powerful and lean, juicy and especially keen.
Like a magnificent river under an old-fashioned wooden bridge, the words never stop flowing.  Like a dancing stream through a lush valley, the laughter never stops coming.
The show enriches everything it touches.  Empowering voices never to hush.  The reality here is one of family and friends moving forward to create a more compassionate and caring universe that
everyone from children to geriatrics can understand.
Olson’s 16 published plays with over 400 productions in seven countries are akin to the little engine that could.  Ten of his plays are published by Samuel French.  
The “Don’t Hug Me” series of plays standing alone as a mainstream success story in both content and popularity and testament to local pride and civic loyalty.
The playwright has also sold two screenplays, script doctored three screenplays that were produced and has two screenplays under option.
Director Doug Engalla, in his eighth production as Director at The Group Repertory Theatre, hits pay dirt again and again.
The veteran Group Repertory Theatre photographer and promotional videographer, in his sharp and concentrated style, allows the actors to be themselves, but primarily in service to their roles
and the script.
Engalla has long been one of the city’s most intense, painstakingly original and energetic of directors.  Here he proves once more why his love of the stage results in one massive hit after another
and one outpouring of human zest and feeling, lust and emotional unpeeling on top of another.
The NAACP Theatre Award Nominee is so talented at his craft that more producers and theatres should consider hiring him.  Engalla does not know how to direct a bad show.
Here he assembles a gifted cast which comprehends the sense-of-humor and philosophical yet sunny vision of its playwright. 
All five actors shine like lighthouses on a dark bay.
Stand outs in this two hour estrogen extravaganza include Lisa McGee Mann (Darla) who nearly steals the play with a deeply convincing turn as Johnson’s long-suffering wife.
The American Academy of Dramatic Arts Alumnus’ vulnerability and sensitivity have made her the top-notch dramatic actress that she is (“Agnes of God,” “Tartuffe,” “Hot L Baltimore,” “Vanities”).
Mann turns this role into her own journey of emotional and psychological redemption.  It is an outing we, the audience, will not soon forget.
Running away with the show, however, is the multi-talented Veronica Roy (Daisy) whose spontaneous, passionate and hilarious portrayal helps make the play into the hit that it is.
The unique beauty, compassion and wisdom of this SAG action actresses’ triumph triggers a spiritual, sexual and psychological explosion that fits her character to a tee.
The energy, love and radiance of the performance are of the highest order, touching and moving soul, heart and mind at once.
This critic would very much like to see the actress, writer and producer again soon on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles, CA.
Furthering the message of the play are the detailed set design of Chris Winfield, innovative lighting design of Kenny Harder, groundbreaking sound design of Steve Shaw and colorful and intimate costume design of 
Stephanie Colet.
All in all, “A Twisted Christmas Carol” succeeds like cowboys, cactus, humidity and football in Texas because of, not despite, its extremely funny and intelligent writing.
The chemistry between the actors, talented eye of the director and raw and naked language of the playwright create an inspiring, illuminating and enlightening evening of
exhilaration and exclamation of an highly unusual American portrait.
On the second Sunday night of the run on which this critic saw the show, not a seat was to be had or an audience member glad when the action onstage ended.
This twisted Texas tale with one ten minute intermission unearths a narrative touching on everything from relationships to the meaning of Christmas and friendship.
This is a brilliant comedic spoof of existence squared and bared, leaving all involved joyful and at their peak, happy yet bleak.
As with most comedies, there is more here than meets the eye.  The characters are each attempting not to live a life that is a lie.
Beat after beat, we, the audience, see people in their own personal cages trying to find the keys to their cuffs, the way out of their prison cells.
It is no coincidence that The Group Repertory Theatre, now in its 45th season, is staging and presenting this production, as the leadership of Co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield once more 
uncovers gold.
The caliber of the company’s material, for instance, once considered “community theatre” fare, but now substantive in content and style, has quickly changed this acrobatic ensemble from a modest and mediocre  
theatre group to the well-respected and productive unit it is today. 
Unfortunately, for the entire Los Angeles theatre community, the powerful pair/dynamic duo is stepping down from their respective positions at year’s end.
Fortunately, for artists and craftspeople alike, new Artistic Director Doug Haverty possesses the vision, courage and inner fortitude to take The Group Repertory Theatre into uncharted waters
in the new decade.
The angels and saints are forever looking out for this most formidable of theatre ensembles, and as both productions Upstairs and Downstairs (“The Man Who Came to Dinner”) prove, now is always better than then 
in terms of quality, quantity and accessability.  
Kudos to all involved.
By Radomir Vojtech LuzaTheatre, Film and Book CriticAt the Theatre with Radomir Luza
At the Theatre with Radomir Luza
Showtimes:Saturdays at 4 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.Talk-back after Sunday show on 01/04/2020General Admission: $20.00.Seniors & Students with ID: $17.00Information and Reservations: (818) 763-5990WHERE: Upstairs at The Lonny Chapman Theatre at The Group Repertory Theatre at10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601.The Upstairs venue is not handicapped accessible.Website: www.theGROUPrep.com  

Get in touch Radomir!