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Hot News

A READING OF VELINA HASU HOUSTON'S NEW PLAY "A SPOT OF BOTHER."

from THE RAFU SHIMPO, Los Angeles Japanese Daily News
March 27, 2015

A reading of “A Spot of Bother,” a new play by Velina Hasu Houston, directed by Stewart J. Zully, will take place Monday, March 30, at 8 p.m. at The Road Theatre, 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. Admission is free.
Velina Hasu Houston (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Velina Hasu Houston (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Just as she is about to spread her wings and claim her independence, a young woman – mixed race Asian-English Manali Patel – finds out she is pregnant by her estranged English boyfriend. At the same time, her biological father, whom she never met – a Brit expatriate living in Los Angeles – appears in her life. Toss in a lovely Asian suitor and a wary English grandmother and you have more than a spot of bother. Set in contemporary London.

Recent world premieres of Houston’s plays include “Cinnamon Girl” (Playwrights’ Arena at Greenway Court Theatre), “Tea, with Music” (East West Players), “Calligraphy” (Playwrights’ Arena/Latino Theatre Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center), “The DNA Trail” (Silk Road Theatre Project/Silk Road Rising with the Goodman Theatre), and “The Intuition of Iphigenia” (multinational commission in Athens and Vlichos, Greece), as well as the opera “Jonah and the Whale” (Los Angeles Opera).

Houston also writes theater for young audiences, including “The Matsuyama Mirror” (Kennedy Center New Visions/New Voices, Singapore Youth Festival, Honolulu Theatre for Youth) and “Hula Heart.” A collection of her plays, “Green Tea Girl in Orange Pekoe Country: Selected Plays of Velina Hasu Houston,” was published last October.

For more information, visit Houston on Facebook or go to www.velinahasuhouston.com.
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from MY EASTERN SHORES MD - March 25, 2015

Playwright shares creative process at WC

CHESTERTOWN — Playwright and dramaturg Sheri Wilner is in residence as the Douglass Wallop fellow at Washington College through April 3, and will offer a public talk and a student-performed excerpt from her play “Kingdom City.”

Wilner’s talk — “Ripped from the Headlines: A Playwriting Craft Talk & Demonstration,” — will take place at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, in the Rose O’ Neill Literary House, 407 Washington Ave. She will focus on how playwrights can use newspaper headlines and stories as source materials to create dynamic works for the stage.

On April 2, at 4:30 p.m., she will host a short performance and a discussion of “Kingdom City,” which was inspired by a New York Times article about a Missouri school district that in 2006 canceled a high school production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”

Washington College students will perform a short selection from the play and Wilner will lead the discussion afterward. As part of her Wallop Fellowship, she also will hold individual consultations with select drama students during her week on campus.
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Beth Henley’s Laugh produced pratfalls and profundity
March 17, 2015 by Jayne Blanchard

from DC Theatre Scene.com

Wacky ain’t for wimps.

Capturing that seltzer fizz, cream pie lightness of classic slapstick is far trickier than it looks. Even the queen of loopy Southern Gothic, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley, slips on the banana peel trying to recreate the side-splitting in Laugh, a world-premiere comedy at Studio Theatre.

The impetus for the work, according to the playwright, is that she just wanted to laugh after the vexing experience of writing her previous play, The Jacksonian, a twisted and darkly funny comedy noir set in Civil Rights era Mississippi.

And who can blame her? We all need a chuckle now and then, especially after a winter that stripped the very marrow from our bones and the asphalt from our streets.

It’s worthwhile to dodge the myriad potholes along P Street to take in Laugh, which displays Henley’s deeply weird sense of humor as well as a pliable cast that hurls themselves with trampoline-like resilience into the demands of the script.

Henley’s other inspiration was silent movies—the dialogue cards, the live piano accompaniment, and pre-talkie stars Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, Lillian Gish, Chaplin and the Keystone Kops.

Her florid dialogue often sounds like it was composed with a calligraphy pen, but the actors handle the curlicues and verbal arabesques with aplomb. The archness of the dialogue reminds you of a Coen Brothers movie at its most eccentric—“Raising Arizona” and “O Brother Where Art Thou?” come to mind.

When things get too plummy, pianist/narrator Wayne Barker contributes droll commentary, spritely music and the stray well-timed sound effect. The production, directed with juggler’s dexterity by David Schweizer, is also given a boost by the athleticism and creative gusto of the performers.
Jacob Ming-Trent and Wayne Barker at the piano.

Set designer Andromache Chalfant places most of the action against a large film frame, which the actors step in and out of. There are also klieg lights, red carpets, painted backdrops and scenery that rolls on and off stage like a Marx Brothers gag—all the accoutrements of zaniness.

Oh zany, where is thy zing?

Aside from some daffy bits—and you don’t know whether to give credit to Henley or the cast’s demented inventiveness—Laugh is more strange than funny.

Laugh is, on the surface, a shaggy dog story about Mabel (a luminous Helen Cespedes), a can-do kinda frontier gal who becomes a mining heiress after her guardian, Curly P. Curtis (Evan Zes), overdoes it with the dynamite. Her new-found fortune attracts the avaricious attention of a distant relative, Aunt Octobra Defoliant (Emily Townley), who tries to force a marriage between Mabel and her butterfly-chasing, yellow-bellied son Roscoe (Creed Garnick, balletic as a classic bumbler).

Needless to say, Aunt Octobra’s plan goes a-cropper, leaving Mabel and Curly to fend for themselves in the wild. They encounter, among other things, the owner of a pornographic Valentine empire (Jacob Ming-Trent) and his cowpoke sidekick (Felicia Curry)—more about that later—the mud-eating denizens of Nowheresville and other tribulations before Mabel arrives in Hollywood and makes it big.

She’s now Masha Snow, all slinky and mysterious with a baloney Bulgarian accent and backstory. But something is missing—could it be Roscoe, a cohesive through-story or something more interesting to do than vamp?

Alas, Laugh is no cliffhanger. It lurches along episodically in Act Two, veering from pratfalls to heavy-duty philosophizing as Henley writes herself into a corner, leaving Mabel and Roscoe nowhere to go but the afterlife.

Henley’s hereafter would give Flannery O’Connor, the grande dame of southern grotesqueries, pause. There are fluttery angel’s wings and sparkly stars, but also washerwomen dunking eternally bloody sheets, swinging saloon doors and elegies to endless love.

What—or as Mabel would say, whut?

March 11 – April 19
The Studio Theatre
1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
2 hours, 20 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $44 – $88
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets or call 202.332.3300

———————

This production took a lot of energy and know-how to indulge Henley in a laugh and the cast winds up saving the day. It is bizarro physical comedy brilliance when Evan Zes sashays across the stage playing a series of increasingly crepuscular shady ladies auditioning for the pornographic Valentine scion. He’s also a maniacal delight as a vulturine Hollywood director clad in leopard-trimmed jodhpurs and a tiny birthday party hat.

Felicia Curry’s agility is showcased in a series of wacky turns as a grizzled sidekick, a maiden named Miss Bee Sunshine whose looks are an acquired taste, and a snooty Hollywood life. Emily Townley adds the right amount of melodrama and restraint to the deranged Aunt Octobra and Jacob Ming-Trent brings the unexpected grace of a king-sized clown to his roles as a drunken uncle (where he elegantly pulls off the sight gag of being stuck in a chair and having to tote it where ever he goes) and the porno Valentine head.

With a silly first act and an existential and emotional second, the play doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be a sendup or a stylistic experiment.

—————-

Laugh by Beth Henley . Directed by David Schweizer . Featuring Helen Cespedes, Creed Garnick, Evan Zes, Jacob Ming-Trent, Emily Townley, Felicia Curry . Composer: Wayne Barker . Set Designer Andromache Chalfant . Lighting Designer: Michael Lincoln . • Costume Designer: Frank Labovitz . Sound Designer: Adam W. Johnson . Movement Consultant: Elena Day . Dramaturg: Adrien-Alice Hansel . Produced by Studio Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
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