Review of The Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of Simon Gray’s “Otherwise Engaged” Upstairs at The Lonny Chapman Theatre

If you are interested in a play about the decadent and sexually-charged 1970’s, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre production of 
“Otherwise Engaged” by Simon Gray running Upstairs at The Lonny Chapman Theatre in The North Hollywood Arts District through September 8th.
This is the story of Simon Hench, a sexually indulgent London book publisher whose life falls apart in a matter of two hours as he is visited by
neighbors, friends, relatives, strangers, aspiring writers and even his wife back from out-of-town with late breaking news when all he craves is a 
peaceful afternoon.
This play is blessed with a life and equilibrium all its own.  It is alive from the first taste of Wagner’s “Parsifal” to the last.
Humanity, dark humor and a sort of manic happiness explode from this production’s belly like a torpedo.
Sex is everywhere, everyone seems to be having an affair and children are to be avoided at all costs in Gray’s modern, frank and ripe glimpse 
into the mind of a gifted artist going mad.
The playwright, who passed away in 2008, finds the problematic gray middle ground between being genuine and wicked.
The writing is a neon rainbow, a screaming peacock and a deep and abiding analysis of an anti-hero at his most challenged, confused and
The language has a breath, voice and rhythm all its own.  It is penned with compassion, great wit and utter delight, but also great insight into 
the volatile machinations of the human soul.
In this, the playwright’s masterpiece, even true love and faithfulness somehow find an exit out the back door.
The words sky rocket off the page like an Apollo mission and fill the mouths of the characters like a four-course meal, never seeming artificial or
straying too far from the glories of the human heart.
This play won Best Play from the New York Drama Critics Circle in 1975 and the Drama Desk Award for Best Play (foreign) in 1977.
Gray, a friend and collaborator of the British playwright Harold Pinter, was appointed Commander of the British Empire in 2004 for his service to
Drama and Literature for a career that also included the plays, “Butley,” “Quartermaine’s Terms” and “The Common Pursuit” along with
novels, television plays and a series of witty memoirs.
Director Linda Alznauer brings the disparate characters filling Hench’s flat into focus with a deft, gentle and sensitive touch.
The USC film school graduate fully understands the yearning in each character’s heart of hearts, but is also keenly aware that everyone who enters
Hench’s world on this day wants something from him except for his brother Stephen. 
The veteran theatre director and actress directs the play moment-to-moment in real time and allows the actors to be themselves by getting out of the 
Alznauer has a very real and bright future as a director because she knows how to stage and sculpt a play from the bumpy beginning to the troublesome 
end better than many of her more renowned contemporaries.
This critic would very much like to see her bite off larger productions by more famous playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Eugene O’Neill, 
Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee.
The Los Angeles and New York City thespian has the talent, drive and theatrical chops to go as far as she desires.
Alznauer assembles a gifted cast that comprehends the unique, complex and naked throughline of the playwright’s work.
Stand outs include:
Fox Carney (Stephen) who almost runs away with the play by giving a confident yet tender turn that foreshadows a bravura portrayal of Hench’s married 
father of a brother who is as different from his sibling as one can be.  The veteran Group Repertory Theatre actor has excelled in nearly everything he 
has done on stage for the company.
This role is no exception.  With a toughness that belies a wounded yet galant soul, Carney scores yet again by finding the difficult balance between 
sadness and grace.
But it is Michael Robb (Simon) who steals the show with a mesmerizing raw, fluid and natural performance as the deeply flawed book publisher.
In a characterization that embraces both the time and place it is set, the veteran stage and screen performer embodies his character with the zest, 
intensity and ferocity of an African lion.
If Robb’s last few turns Upstairs at The Group Repertory Theatre are any indication, this unusual, emotionally edgy and offbeat actor has a deeply 
promising future ahead of him cobbled in platinum and gold.
Here he is in every second of every scene as the lynch pin of the production.  If he fails, the play follows.  But the effusive entertainer misses nary a beat.
This critic would like to see Robb again soon on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles.
Furthering the message of the play are the ingenious set design of Chris Winfield, the innovative lighting design of Kenny Harder, the brilliant 
sound design of Steve Shaw and the timely and modern costume design of Victor D’wayne Little.
All in all, “Otherwise Engaged” succeeds because of, not despite, its embodiment of the time and place it is set.
This play is no mere small time dark comedy.
It is a testament to the sex-fueled, materialistic, me first decade that was the 1970’s.
It soars and falls with a new generation at that point in time.
Few other plays embrace their circumstances more vividly, realistically or dramatically. 
Gray’s genius lies not in the fact that he does not get involved in the details and specifics of this play enough, but that he gets involved too much.
Only such a caring and daring playwright could write a chronicle or diary of a man losing his mind as well as his grip on life so accurately, poignantly and 
soulfully that we, the audience, believe every crazy, tainted and tattered moment truthfully, sincerely and honestly.
That alone is a feat worth rewarding.
A play such as this would not have seen the light of day were it not for the wise appointments of Larry Eisenberg and Winfield as co-Artistic 
Directors in 2010.
This perfect pair has brought a bolder, purer, more courageous, artistic and mainstream ambiance, environment and vision to the once
“community theatre” oriented and driven theatre ensemble.
No easy task.
It is with a heavy heart and sad soul that this critic has learned of the departure of both artistic directors come the new year.
One hopes that Doug Haverty, the new Artistic Director, can spark the same genius, spontaneity, determination, confidence and perseverance in the
company that Eisenberg and Winfield did.
But if there is a person and committed group of artists that can get through any difficult and trying transition, it is the multi-talented Haverty, who can 
currently be seen both Downstairs and Upstairs and doing the graphics for both shows through September 8th, and this astonishingly resilient family of 
theatrical high wire acrobats.
Change seems constant, yet probable, pliable and feasible on Burbank Boulevard.
By Radomir Vojtech LuzaTheatre, Film and Book Critic

Showtimes (Upstairs)Saturdays at 4 PM,Sundays at 7 PMTalkbacks with cast and staff on Saturday Afternoons, 8/17 and 8/24.  After the Matinee. Ticket Prices:General Admission: $20.00Seniors/Students with ID’s: $15.00Information/Reservations: (818) 763-5990WHERE: Second Floor of The Lonny Chapman Theatre at                The Group Repertory Theatre at 10900 Burbank Boulevard,                North Hollywood, CA 91601                The Upstairs is not handicap accessible.         

Review of The Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of Theresa Rebeck’s “Loose Knit”

If you are interested in a play about a New York City women’s knitting circle make a beaten path to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of 
“Loose Knit” by Theresa Rebeck running at The Lonny Chapman Theatre in the No Ho Arts District through September 8th.
This is the story of five New York City women who meet once a week in the heart of the city to knit.
The thing is, knitting is about the last thing they do.  As the yarn increases, so do the pain, suffering and anguish.
Liz is sleeping with her sister Lilly’s husband Bob, Margie is contending with a dating service and a new therapist, Paula is wondering why she is a  
therapist and Gina just wants her old job back. 
In-between, the quintet all meets with Miles, a self-confident businessman who earned his first million dollars before he was thirty-years-old and owns a 
Rolls Royce to die for, on a series of blind dates at a sushi restaurant.
This play could not have been written about or for men.
No, it is ladies, ladies and more ladies that make it so multi-layered and fascinating.
The passion, purity and possibility that the fairer sex provides is alive and kicking here in writing so opulent and ample that it penetrates the pores and 
sinks into the soul.
The language and plot intertwine like a Tango near Paris’ famed River Seine.         .
One leaning on the other like battle-tested veterans after the Battle of the Bulge.
Indeed, Rebeck’s words prove so proud, plentiful and pliable that they create scenarios and scenes on their own.
The prolific and widely produced playwright who this Fall will premiere her fourth Broadway play, “Bernhardt/Hamlet” as part of the Roundabout Theatre 
Company’s 2018-2019 season making Rebeck the most Broadway-produced female playwright of our time here shows why.
In television and film, the talented scribe has made a name for herself as well as a writer for shows like “L.A. Law,” “NYPD Blue” and “Law and Order: 
Criminal Intent” and feature films such as “Harriett the Spy” and “Gossip” and the independent features, “Sunday on the Rocks” and
“Seducing Charlie Barker,” an adaptation of her play, “The Scene.”  
Director L. Flint Esquerra, who this critic last encountered when he helmed Larry Eisenberg, The Group Repertory Theatre’s soon-to-be-departing co-
Artistic Director as Morrie in The Sierra Madre Playhouse production of “Tuesdays with Morrie” this past March, here does the impossible: he makes
the women of the knitting circle seem like close friends at the beginning of the evening.
He continues to perfect their humanity and heart at the cost of their ego and vanity and ends up with five full, plump and fat character outlines. These  
females stain, stomp and swing their way into your being as well as your blood.  
Esquerra is a brilliant director who understands that art is a reflection of life, but that that angle of refrain depends on how heightened the reality is.
The veteran stage director simply sees and does what very few other directors can or ever will.
Esquerra assembles a deeply gifted cast that comprehends the complex and creative patterns and undertones of the playwright’s work.
Stand outs include Julie Davis (Margie) who just about runs away with the play by giving a confident and comfortable turn as the forever dateless and  
manless friend who discovers that working on herself far exceeds any attempt at getting a romantic partner.
The Shakespearean actress who appeared in last year’s Group Repertory Theatre production of “Romeo and Juliet” captures this play’s quirky dark 
humor and unique psychological transparency better than just about any other actress in the production.
Davis’ sincere and direct honesty is a most refreshing change and challenge in the play.
Her pretty countenance belies a courageous and competetive spirit that plays right into Rebeck’s aggressive theme and attitude.
But it is Marie Broderick (Liz) who steals the show with a completely spontaneous, intelligent and sexy performance as Lily’s younger and more rebellious 
The actor, director and producer operates on her own land somewhere between rainbow and Wrigley, but moves like a neon lion between issues, 
problems and situations.  
Born in Vietnam, Broderick came to Los Angeles after earning a BA in Drama with a minor in Dance from the University of Washington.
The longtime actress is a study in not only physical adeptness and awareness, but emotional sensitivity and bravery.
Broderick owns the stage from beginning to end, and her presence not only charms and cajoles, but dices, cuts and slices.
This is an electric, riveting and totally compelling portrayal not to be missed.
This critic hopes to see Broderick on the boards of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again very soon.
Furthering the message of the play are the beautiful and innovative set design of Chris Winfield, the eye-popping lighting design of Douglas Gabrielle, the 
colossal sound design of JC Gafford and the supple and rich costume design of Angela M. Eads.
All in all, “Loose Knit” succeeds because of, not despite, its freedom of thought and deed, wisdom and weight.
Every subject from race to the opposite sex to American Imperialism to Donald Trump is covered and hotly debated.
The wit and fierceness here are unparalleled.  Each character with her own timeline and trip to the turquoise sky.
Every wide river maneuvered, high peak scaled, and deep valley crossed in the attempt to humanize and color the personal journey and perspective 
of each and every character on stage and audience member in their seats.
This social, civil and philosophical examination and analysis touches on everything humane and good in the universe even though it often parades, 
pinches and punches as improbable, impossible and immoral.   
As the eighth character in the play, New York City awakens to its awesome potential and absurd divinity in a way only this playwright can pen, this  
director instruct and this cast perform. 
Before the appointment of co-Artistic Directors Eisenberg and Winfield there is no way a project of this magnitude, delicacy and gentleness would have 
gotten off the ground on Burbank Boulevard where “community theatre fare” was the standard and mediocrity reigned like jelly donuts. 
Therefore, it is with sadness that this critic recently learned of the retirement of Eisenberg from his position.  This company owes much to him not only
as a leader, but a talented administrator.  Eisenberg’s love of and passion for live theatre is unequaled.  This critic wishes the director and actor well in the 
future and hopes that Doug Haverty, the replacement, can step into his shoes and deliver as Eisenberg always did efficiently and effectively
during his nine plus years.
The future of the ensemble seems to depend on it.
By Radomir Vojtech LuzaTheatre, Film and Book Critic

Showtimes:Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sunday Matinees at 2 PM. Talkback Sundays, August 11 and August 25After the Matinee.General Admission: $25 Students/Seniors with ID: $20.Groups 10+: $15.Information/Reservation: (818) 763-5990. WHERE: The Group Repertory Theatre/Lonny Chapman Theatre-Main Stage at 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601   

Review of The Hollywood Fringe Festival Production of “The Notorious M.O.M.S.” by Yvette Saunders at Flight Theater in The Complex on Theatre Row on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, CA

If you are interested in a play about the degradation and humiliation life can offer, run do not walk to The Hollywood Fringe Festival workshop production of Yvette Saunders’ “The Notorious 
M.O.M.S.” running June 23rd, 28th and 29th at Flight Theater in The Complex on Theatre Row on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, CA. 
This is the story of Ella, an actress who tries to commit suicide because she does not know how to cope with recently being raped.
But to her shock and dismay, her interactions with the voice of legendary stand-up comedienne Moms Mabley save her life and bring her back to reality.
The writing here is tight, taut and titillating.  Ella overcomes the unthinkable through her own courage, conviction and clarity.
The language flows like a peaceful river and dances like Marlon Brando in “The Last Tango in Paris” or Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain.”
The words come together to paint a portrait of black skies interrupted by a shimmering sun, a dark tunnel bathed in train light or a raven soaring over field and mountain alike.
In other words, the premise here works.  The play, even at 50 minutes, is substantial and strong and electric and aching with possibility.
On the first Sunday of the run when this critic saw the show, the lighting design was especially effective and added to the angst, anxiety, but also, the artistic and comedic nature of the 
Director JC Gafford infuses what could have been, in lesser hands, a dragging, moralistic study of rape and suicide, into a show with a sense of humor and style from ear-to-ear and  
beginning to end.
The 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival participant returns this year by helming a play too deep and troublesome for many, with beauty, boldness and bravery.
The veteran director, who will next be the Assistant Director of “Loose Ends,” The Group Repertory Theatre’s upcoming Main Stage production, creates seamless transitions and memorable
moments with instinct, intuition and talent alone.
Having Ella and Mabley both address the audience, for example, is a courageous and insightful piece of blocking that works on every level and from every angle.
The teaching and blues and funk artist has the makings of a major director, especially if he gets a few mainstream theatrical successes under his belt.
Here he glows like a full moon on a clear night. 
Gafford has cast a proud and potent partner in Saunders.
Saunders (Ella/Moms Mabley) excels in the dual role.  The NYU Tisch School of the Arts BFA gives a convincing turn in what is nothing less than a one-person show.
Though there are moments at the beginning of the piece where Saunders needs to dig deeper to make the character more believable,
overall, the program performer in New York City’s Atlantic Theater Company gives an inspired and exhilarating performance complete with a spot-on portrayal of Mabley 
that captures the trailblazing stand-up comedienne’s charm, charisma, chutzpah and unique sense of humor.
It is not lost on Saunders that Mabley was an African American, female, lesbian performer in the 1930’s earning $10,000 a week at a time when each of these traits alone was deeply 
frowned upon. 
The veteran stage and screen actress, modern dancer and choreographer here enchants, illuminates and educates us, the audience, as to the rejuvenative and restorative powers of  
humor and love.
This critic hopes to see Saunders on the stages of Hollywood and Los Angeles again very soon.
Choreographer Fernando Christopher adds to the play’s power with tight, nimble and athletic dancing that is subtle and effortless in its presentation and character.
His is a rare and valuable gift. 
Furthering the message of the play are the innovative and imaginative set and sound design of Saunders and Gafford and the simple yet sumptuous costume design of Kayle Williams.
All in all, “The Notorious M.O.M.S.” succeeds because it is a powerful one-person show, not despite it.
Whether we, the audience, consider this a play or a workshop production is thoroughly unimportant.
What matters is that there is humanity, integrity, dignity and truth percolating directly beneath Saunders’ feet.
The premise here is so abundant, ample and bountiful that next to nothing can derail it.
The play runs on its own fuel, in its own engine and on its own interstate.
Little more need be said.
Except that this critic yearns for the collaboration of Saunders and Gafford again soon if for nothing else than a rich, rollicking and vital voice at a time when Los Angeles theatre and the 
world need it the most.
Kudos to all involved.
By Radomir Vojtech LuzaTheatre, Film and Book Critic
Showtimes:Hollywood Fringe Festival:June 23rd, 28th and 29th       Tickets: All Shows Are Pay What You Can.  $10 Sale Price.Information/Reservations: Flight Theatre in                The Complex at                 6472 Santa Monica Boulevard, (between Cole Avenue and Wilcox Avenue)                On Theatre Row in                Hollywood, CA 90038


If you are interested in The Group Repertory Theatre’s presentation of its third NINE WINNING ONE-ACTS play festival, with world premiere short plays chosen from over 250 submissions
from the English-speaking world, make a beaten path to the second floor (Upstairs) of the Lonny Chapman Theatre.  Performed as one program and running through July 14th in the North Hollywood Arts District, the 
event is co-produced by Belinda Howell and Helen O’Brien. 
The stories here range from discrimination to suicide, and take place in locations as different as a traveling circus and an art gallery.
The quality of the one-acts varies from brilliant to average, but what matters most in the end is that these never-before-seen short works are being born on the stage and that we, the audience, 
have the opportunity to be touched by their pink neon, electric yellow human roller coaster of a ride for the first time. 
All nine one-acts exhibit talent and integrity.  The writing as colorful as a meadow in the Summer and as sharp and clever as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill  during Dunkirk.  The directing as full as the earth’s  
orbit around the sun and the acting as deep, dignified and free as the Grand Canyon at sunset.
The three one-acts that moved this critic’s soul and spirit the most are: CLIFFORD’S by Lawson Caldwell, ART ATTACK by Cary Pepper and DESTINY AND DAMAGE by Chris Shaw Swanson.
The former concerns discrimination against a gay groom written with humanity and sincerity about a realistic world where people and opinions are not always what we would want or like them to be.
Directed by Cheryl Crosland with specificity, detail and the deftest of dramatic touches, the direction allows for the important transitions to be seen on the visages of the three characters rather than
through the dialogue.
The second one-act about two friends visiting an art gallery leaves nothing or no one spared.  The language is brave, bold and cutting edge.  The direction by Victor D’wayne Little courageous and brutally frank.  The  
last minute leaving us, the audience, shocked, breathless and wanting more.  
The latter concerns a young woman’s suicide attempt interrupted by a stranger knowing more than he lets on.  The words, precise, proud and powerful, force us all to confront our own fears, failings and faults.
The direction by Barbara Brownell extraordinary and exquisite in scope and scale, while yet terribly specific in emotion and body language.
All three directors assemble gifted casts that comprehend the truths and complexities of the writing.
Stand-outs include: Cynthia Bryant in WHOSE PLOT IS THIS?, Mishia Marie Johnson in ART ATTACK, Bix Barnaba in INFESTING THE MOB and
Michael Robb (Man) (DESTINY & DAMAGE) who gives a convincing turn as a Greek God in charge of the “undeclared.”
Robb uses his face and body brilliantly and beautifully in cementing the part into our conscious and sub-conscious minds.
The actor has the courage to tackle a very difficult role, and succeeds because of his vision, talent and choice of playing the part as an every man.
Nearly stealing the program is Fox Carney (Robert) (CLIFFORD’S), (He) (THE UNFORGIVEABLE SIN OF FORGIVENESS)
The veteran Group Repertory Theatre performer proves adept here at drama and comedy.  In CLIFFORD’S, Carney is brilliant as a father who changes his opinion of his homosexual neighbor.
The transition comes spiritually and emotionally through his legs, arms and chest as well as his face.  In SIN, the longtime stage actor makes us, the audience, flip our wigs in laughter by upending the truth.
His light and airy touch display a deeply funny comedic actor.
But running away with the festival is Doug Haverty (CLIFFORD’S) whose simple, but atomic performance stayed in this critic’s mind on the first Sunday that he saw the festival all evening long, and which in its slow but 
budding brilliance proves that acting is nothing more than reacting, and genius little less than trusting everything and everyone but yourself.  Here, the veteran Group Repertory Theatre and stage actor, seems so 
comfortable that it is as if we are talking to him ourselves off-stage. 
Less is more.
When minimum converges with maximum on that very special place known as the stage, character portrayals are embedded karmatically and legends born dramatically.
This critic hopes to see Haverty on the boards of Los Angeles and North Hollywood again soon.
Furthering the message of the festival are the stellar technical direction of Kenny Harder, the disciplined stage management of Jody Bardin and the innovative and powerful sound design of Steve Shaw.    
All in all, the FESTIVAL OF NINE WINNING ONE-ACTS succeeds not because each one-act is perfect or somehow brilliant, but because together as a group the one-acts try to be the best that they can with what
they have.  That alone is reason not only for celebration, but theatrical rebirth and regeneration.
Not one of the one-acts disappoints or abandons its purpose and duty as a work of art.
They are all staged with presence, class and skill.
 For the third time, kudos also go out to co-artistic directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield  for taking a chance on these virtually unknown playwrights.
In giving back to the community, the pair proves once more that transporting the Group Repertory Theatre from the theatrical Dark Ages of community theatre fare to the Modern Ages of of classical and contemporary 
theatre has been a lightning bolt from the Gods in terms of quality of work, quantity of theatre goers and talent of playwrights, directors and performers. 
In this case, the third production of the season Upstairs is proof that the Main stage is not the only place where theatre flourishes on Burbank Boulevard, just the latest.
The Upstairs has also proven to be an experimental laboratory for the Group Repertory Theatre where work not fitting the Main stage, can be displayed and kindly nurtured.
Thank Eisenberg and Winfield for this arithmetic of hope and faith.
These are equations after our own making.
The playwrights are: Lawson Caldwell, Pamela Weiler Grayson, Aleks Merilo, Dan O’Day, Rich Orloff, Cary Pepper, Margie Similof, Joe Starzyk and Chris Shaw Swanson.
The one-acts are being directed by: Linda Alznauer, Barbara Brownell, Cheryl Crosland, Jack Csenger, Kathleen Delaney, Victor D’wayne Little, Stan Mazin, Bruce Nehlsen and Helen O’Brien.
The cast features performances by: Nick Asaro, Bix Barnaba, Michele Bernath, Barbara Brownell, Cynthia Bryant, Fox Carney, Stephanie Colet, Cheryl Crosland, Bert Emmett, Kait Haire, Doug Haverty, Mishia Marie
Johnson,  Saana Laigren, John Ledley, Victor D’wayne Little, Stan Mazin, Lisa McGee Mann, Joseph Marcello, Helen O’Brien, Beccy Quinn, Michael Robb, Judy Rosenfeld, Adam Smith, Sal Valletta, Sascha Vanderslik,
David Vu and Wyatt Wheeler.
By Radomir Vojtech LuzaTheatre, Film and Book CriticAt the Theatre with Radomir Luza
At the Theatre with Radomir LuzaShowtimes:Saturdays at 4 PMSundays at 7 PMTickets: $20.00Students/Seniors with ID: $17Information/Reservations: (818) 763-5990Upstairs at The Group Repertory Theatre is locatedon the second floor of the Lonny Chapman Theatre at 10900 Burbank Boulevard,North Hollywood, CA 91601The second floor is not handicapped accessible.The 32 seat black box theatre has AC/Heat. 

Review of The Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of “Avenue Q”

If you are interested in a musical complete with puppetry from unconcealed puppeteers that concerns the transition from childhood into adulthood, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of 
“Avenue Q.”
Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Book by Jeff Whitty, based on an original concept by Lopez and Marx, running at The Lonny Chapman Theatre in the North Hollywood Arts District through July 7th.
This is the story of a group of friends living on the same street in New York City who begin to notice that life is not the fairy tale or amusement park they though it was as youngsters.  They now
understand that their parents and the television show “Sesame Street” may not have been totally correct in letting them think that they were special and extraordinary.  Existence seems to have other plans for them.
However, on Avenue Q, the past matters little.
The present is a state of mind and a celebration of romance, maturity and bravery.
Because once you run into reality’s wall, you are either bruised forever or learn to climb over it.
The Music and Lyrics by Lopez and Marx strike a heartfelt and soul full chord from first moment to last with groundbreaking, transparent, highly original and semi-controversial, even for today, lyrics about marginally 
taboo subjects such as homosexuality, race and pornography. 
But no matter what we, the audience, think about the lyrical subject matter, the substance and style of the libretto are highly infectious and engaging, like the very characters themselves.
The lyrics and music are witty and graceful, and after a while the puppets seem not only human, but like our best friends.
The singing and puppetry are top notch and rip a hole in the heart the size of the sun.
In the end, if it is music and songs you have come to this theatre for, you have arrived at exactly the correct destination.
Whitty’s Book leads to and interweaves with the Music and Lyrics electrically, achingly and seamlessly.
It is the blueprint of the play.
The book or libretto is the least appreciated and yet most dramatically important element of the evening.
It is the narrative structure that keeps the score from being nothing more than a disjointed medley of songs.
Here, the book and score interweave to tell a cohesive story.
The original concept by Lopez and Marx is innovative and timeless.
While we drop our dentures laughing and singing along with the actors and their puppets, there is a very serious message here of young adults more and more overlooked, spiritually and emotionally undernourished  
and severely isolated at this time in the universe’s history.
This sobering message of alienation, subjugation and modernization in a world not made by or for these young adults, grabs us, the audience, by the scruff of the collar and drags us begging for less,
allowing the play to take its own course away from cliche, dramatic contamination and catchphrases. 
The Orchestrations and Arrangements by Stephen Oremus are fluid, full and pleasing to the ear.  The notes connect with the lyrics and words as if they were written together.  And perhaps they were.
The Musical Direction by Paul Cady is strong, commanding and furthers the message of the play.
Michele Bernath’s Choreography is beautifully executed with timely steps and stretches.  Taken alone the dancing explains the arc of this unusual and original musical, but together with the rest of the play, it is a
fairy tale and story with its own author.  One the veteran dancer and choreographer writes with precision, passion and poise.
Director Patrick Burke inspires the actors to be themselves and hold nothing back in song or dialogue.
 On the initial matinee that this critic saw the show, The Group Repertory Theatre veteran actor underscored the themes of loneliness and early adult anxiety with an entertaining, emotionally moving, artistically 
nimble and fast-paced show that was also sold-out.
Burke assembles a gifted cast that comprehends the complexities, demands and fluid grace of the music, lyrics and language.
Stand outs include:
Courtney Bruce (Gary Coleman) who almost steals the play with a confident, comical and convincing turn as the late sitcom child star.
The Actors Equity Association union actress, who is making her debut with The Group Repertory Theatre, exhibits a powerful stage presence and spot-on characterization.
Hands on hips, head in the stars, the longtime stage actress seems to be asking us to accept her as she is in this play:Unbridled, spontaneous and her own person.
With glue sticks for fingers, we, the audience, are more than happy to oblige.
But running away with the show is Hartley Powers (Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut) who once again (Last year’s “A Carol Christmas”) proves that being a triple threat is nothing new to her.
Well, if you add the art of puppetry, the stage and screen actress is now a quadruple threat.
Acting since she was 11 months, this buzz saw of a performer leaves no doubt that her commitment to acting is only surpassed by her sensitivity, talent and vulnerability on stage.
 Her song “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” to end Act One brought this critic to tears.  
Powers’ range and artistic instinct can be seen in every drop of golden syllable and syntax.  

The Group Repertory Theatre veteran plays both of her roles with freedom, finesse and funk.
The level of difficulty in capturing two characters as different as Powers’ is off the charts, but the perseverant and accomplished thespian pulls it off with seeming ease.  
This critic hopes to see Powers on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again very soon.
Furthering the message of the musical are Chris Winfield’s innovative set design, Patrick Dennison’s powerful and viable lighting design, Steve Shaw’s brilliantly modern sound design and 
Stephanie Colet’s supple and rich costume design.
All in all, “Avenue Q” succeeds because of its animated nature, not despite it.
The musical flies and soars over peaks and valleys, and through tunnels and overpasses.
It does what few musicals have ever attempted to do: Make puppets seem human.
This, the 24th longest-running play in Broadway history, deserves credit not for being a children’s show with adult actors, but an adult show with adult actors and themes.
Our parents tell us as children that we are special and can accomplish anything that we put our minds to.
As this show proves, we are all somewhat ordinary and cannot succeed in everything we put our hearts and spirits to.
But, the musical shows this quandary with love, understanding and sympathy, not judgement.
In the end, for better or worse, this avenue is full of young people just living.
And that alone is a beautiful and sumptuous feast to behold and celebrate.
That the Group Repertory Theatre once more chose a groundbreaking musical that thinks outside of the proverbial box is no longer a surprise.
Since taking over the reins, Co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Winfield have slowly guided this ship from the murky waters of community theatre fare
to the gulf stream waters of classical and contemporary theatre with courage, class and karma.
“Avenue Q” is merely the last in a long line of triumphs for the pair and the entire ensemble as a whole.
After all, one entity cannot exist without the other.
In this instance, it does not, as both shimmer, shake and shine.
The former in knowing that they made the correct artistic, mainstream and commercial choice yet again, and the latter in hitting their marks and flooring it like the Formula One race cars at the
recent Indianapolis 500.
May both get the checkered flag on Burbank Boulevard as rubber meets asphalt yet again.
Kudos to all involved.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza     Theatre, Film and Book CriticAt the Theatre with Radomir Luza Showtimes:Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 2:00 PMTalk backs after matinees on June 9th and June 23rdTickets:General Admission: $30.00Students/Seniors with ID: $25.00Groups 10+: $20.00Information/Reservation: (818) 763-5990WHERE: The Group Repertory Theatre at               The Lonny Chapman Theatre,               10900 Burbank Boulevard,               North Hollywood, CA 91601   
At the Theatre with Radomir Luza

Review of Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s Production of John Olive’s “Standing On My Knees”

If you are interested in a play about a talented poet besieged with Schizophrenia, look no further than Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s production of John Olive’s “Standing On My Knees” playing at the Sherry Theatre in 
the North Hollywood Arts District through June 2nd.
This is the story of a gifted wordsmith who must decide whether the mental illness raging within her is who she is or if she can resurrect her once-thriving poetry career which probably led to the madness.
The widely produced and award-winning Olive reaches for the heavens here and succeeds by keeping the plot, structure and writing simple.
The language is naked, raw and seamless in its genuine and sincere beauty.
There are no hurdles, Mount Everests or San Fernando Valleys to speak of, only streets and boulevards of hope, faith, suffering, and in the end, alcohol-fueled institutionalization.
The playwright’s words are arresting and electric as they take us on a journey of self-discovery, pharmacology, therapy and creativity rekindled.
The ache and strength in the dialogue are overwhelming and strike a loud and noble chord with us, the audience, from beginning to end.
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Review of Group Repertory Theatre’s Productions of the One-Act plays”Let Me Hear You Whisper” by Paul Zindel and “The Strangest Kind of Romance” by Tennessee Williams Upstairs at The Lonny Chapman Theatre

If you are interested in a pair of inextricably linked One-Act plays, make a beaten path to The Group Repertory Theatre’s productions of Paul Zindel’s “Let Me Hear You Whisper” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Strangest 
Kind of Romance” running through May 5th Upstairs at The Group Repertory Theatre, on the second floor of the Lonny Chapman Theatre in the North Hollywood Arts District. 
The first One-Act concerns a scientific laboratory where experiments are being conducted on mammals, and the new cleaning lady who slowly uncovers the laboratory’s secrets.
The second One-Act deals with the proprietress of a boarding house who attempts to take advantage of a young European foreigner working at the nearby factory and the sparks that fly, or do not soar.
In the former One-Act, science takes on humanity in a display of the dangers of ego, superficiality, materialism and greed in a beautifully-written cautionary tale that leaves us, the audience, both riveted and
emotionally moved.  Zindel won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1971 for “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds.”
The language is as thought-provoking and seamless as a long day at the beach.  Except that this beach is frought with dolphins trained to destroy, detonate and annihilate.
Zindel’s clever anti-war satire is subtle, yet charming in its innocent anger and frustration.  It even goes so far as to remind us in Nazi-like boot-clicking fashion that those who do not talk back
against what is wrong are as bad as those perpetrating that evil.
Director Katelyn Ann Clark finds a way to involve every actor in the action.  In so doing, she not only allows each actor the chance to make their presence felt, but lets the ensemble paint an inglorious, yet 
nakedly honest and raw portrait, of science gone terribly wrong.
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Review of Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of Agatha Christie’s THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS

If you are interested in a play loaded with high mystery, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of Agatha Christie’s “The Secret of Chimneys” running in the Lonny Chapman Theatre in the North 

Hollywood Arts District through May 5th.
This is the story of a cosmopolitan adventurer who uncovers murder, mayhem and madness at an English country house under the watchful eye of both Scotland Yard and the French Surete.
Yes, at times the play is hard to follow and often it seems that there are more characters on stage at the same time than the eye can swallow, but this is Christie at her most playful, jovial and genuine.
Comedy seeps from the pores of this whodunit like sweat or blood.
This play was originally published in the United Kingdom in June of 1925.  Read more

Review of Sierra Madre Playhouse’s Production of Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher

If you are interested in a play about a friendship between a student and his beloved sociology professor, look no further than Sierra Madre Playhouse’s
 production of Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Jeffrey Hatcher and Albom at Sierra Madre Playhouse in Sierra Madre, CA through March 31st.
This is the story of a friendship between a nationally-known professor at Brandeis University suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) 
and his famous sports journalist of a former student who has more questions than answers. 
 Within this moon glow of a relationship, two major questions are advanced:
1.What is friendship?
2.Who is God?
The former builds on stage throughout as the master, here referred to as coach, slowly withers away before us, the audience, but not before 
changing the student from a self-involved, time-absorbed professional to a kindred spirit unafraid of showing the love and freedom in his heart of hearts
and soul of souls.  The latter defined by the love displayed by both men.  One in coming to terms with his mortality, and the other by learning 
the meaning of life by releasing the inner light most of us are afraid to let shine and taught to hide. Read more

Review of Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of WHOOPSIE DOOPSIE By Art Shulman Upstairs at the GRT in North Hollywood, CA

If you are interested in a charming, comic tale of two young people at a crossroads in their relationship and lives, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of

“Whoopsie Doopsie,” written and directed by Art Shulman, and playing in the Black Box Theatre Upstairs at the GRT in the North Hollywood Arts District through March 3rd.
This is the story of a young man who gets his girlfriend pregnant, but instead of having the baby, the young woman decides to have an abortion.
In-between the story of the two lovers, we, the audience, are treated to events happening to the young lad each year from age two to the current 17.

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