Category Archives: Theatre

Theatre Review: “Hot l Baltimore” in Los Angeles!

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“Hot l Baltimore” directed by Che Walker and produced by Rochelle Rossman at Stella Adler in Los Angeles.

Cast: Mona Lisa Abdallah, Liselotte Alfons, Anastasia Burenina, Christina Blum, Ana Roza Cimperman, Robert Oliver Gislason, Christian Hoha, Ninni Holm, Edward Macgregor, Tatiana Olaya, Johann Schulte-Hillen, Kayla Strada, Nuno Sousa and Abel Vivas.

 

Los Angeles, CA- Director Che Walker’s production of Lanford Wilson’s 1973 play “Hot l Baltimore,” which had a successful run on the Gilbert Stage at the iconic Stella Adler Theatre in Los Angeles, brought together a mishmash of colorful characters who all have one thing in common– they are all on the verge of homelessness as the seedy Hotel Baltimore that they call home is slated for demolition.

Set in the lobby of the dilapidated hotel, “Hot l Baltimore,” which pulls its title from the neon marquee with the burnt out ‘e’ that sits above the dying building, follows the trials and tribulations of the soon to be evicted characters as they live out their final days at the hotel.

The cast of the show gives audiences a brilliant slice of life peek into the lives of these characters, which range from naive hopefuls and over-the-top eccentrics, to cynical prostitutes who’ve seen too much sorrow to ever fully recover and the hotel’s less than chipper staff that seem to go out of their way to make all of the ‘guests’ feel like they’re the scum of the earth.

Mona Lisa Abdallah first takes the stage as the hotel’s daytime desk clerk Mrs. Oxenham, and boy does this actress bring her easily flustered, germaphobic and overly conservative character to life with distinct style. From her fidgety, nail biting mannerisms to her unrelenting nosey-ness and constant eavesdropping, Mona Lisa makes Mrs. Oxenham into a character we all love to hate.

The interactions between Oxenham and Paul (played by Robert Oliver Gislason), a former tenant who returns to the hotel (after being sent away to a work farm for two years due to a drug conviction) in search of his grandfather, serves as the perfect example of the disconnect between the two societal classes portrayed by the story’s hotel staff and their ‘customers.’ Instead of being willing to help, Oxenham brushes off Paul’s requests and treats him as if he his less than human, further solidifying the idea that these down-on-their-luck characters are really just worthless individuals undeserving of respect.

While the play is definitely tragic in the way it portrays the less than glamorous lives of the majority of its characters, it is not devoid of comic relief. The way Mona Lisa’s character uses a tissue to pick up the old rotary phone, and takes several minutes to lick the adhesive on an envelope just to mail a letter, definitely brings a bit of quirky humor to the show.

On top of taking on the pivotal role of Mrs. Oxenham, Mona Lisa was also cast to take on the role of Dopey, a new character written into the production by director Che Walker. Mona Lisa reveals her wide range as an actress through her portrayal of these two very different characters within the same production, something she accomplishes with astonishing ease.

 

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Mona Lisa Abdallah as Dopey in “Hot l Baltimore”

 

As Dopey, one of the hotel’s resident hookers, Mona Lisa gives an engaging monologue about the struggles of being a prostitute in the lower rungs of society, where the girls continually spend their money to look glamorous in the eyes of their revolving door of Johns, have little left over for themselves and still battle the unceasing  yearning for the familiar touch of true love– a sad cycle few are able to escape.

The young and lovably naive prostitute known as The Girl, played by Kayla Strada, gives us a little insight into how some of the older prostitutes started out their lives in the ‘business,’ probably holding onto a glimmer of  hope that they would some day escape the murky underworld that’s sadly trapped them.

And then there is Jackie, played by Tatiana Olaya, a rebellious young thing who’s travelling with her little brother trying to gather enough money to start an organic farm back in Utah. After using all of her money to purchase the land for the farm (which she has yet to see), she goes about trying to convince Mr. Katz, the hotel manager played by Ninni Holm, to cosign a loan so she can get the start-up money she needs for the farm. But when that doesn’t work out, she decides to steal jewels from Morse’s room; however, she is caught and gets herself kicked out of the hotel. Even sadder than the fact that Jackie has no chance of really making a go of it with the farm, is that she leaves her brother Jamie, who’s not-all-there mentally, behind.

Through Millie, played by Johanna Schulte-Hillen, a retired waitress with a pension for reminiscing over the past, audiences are privy to a character who represents a different kind of ‘failed’ existence– one where the person doesn’t even reason that their life is in shambles. The character, who always seems to be telling ghost stories (that she clearly believes) in her somewhat soothing southern drawl, has a sweet, but melancholy quality about her– as if she had a beautiful future ahead of her at one point, but somehow took a turn for the worse.

The drama that ensues as the conflicting personalities of the characters clash, and the tragic, sometimes hard to swallow, display of their personal turmoil, kept viewers engaged throughout the run of the show. From the soon to be destroyed building, where hot water is simply not a thing and a working elevator is a memory long past, to the decaying youth of the play’s struggling band of prostitutes, “Hot L Baltimore” is imbued with themes of human struggle and cultural decay, and the actors involved do a marvelous job of breathing life into this 1973 play in the modern age.

 

 

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Alexander Davis: A Child Actor That Needs to Be On Everyone’s Radar

Alexander Davis
Alexander Davis shot by Denise Grant

To find one’s calling can take a lifetime, but Canadian actor Alexander Davis found his in acting when he was just three years old.

Since then, the eight-year-old prodigy has already played lead roles on stage (A Christmas Story, The Little Mermaid) and in film (The Closet, Volition).

Davis portrayed the lead character of Randy Parker in A Christmas Story, which ran for 48 shows in just six weeks at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Davis’ portrayal of the quirky Parker was so well done that it earned him a 2015 Young Artist Award for Best Performance in Live Theatre.

Though Davis’ work in A Christmas Story was a resounding success, it was not without its challenges. Just before intermission of one of the shows, Davis fell on the set’s stairs and hurt his leg. He was bleeding, in pain, and his next stage direction was to walk out the door. That’s when he learned the meaning of “the show must go on.”

“My acting mom was amazing. She just carried on with the show and picked me up to carry me out the door,” Davis said. “I don’t know if the audience knew what had happened was real or not. During intermission, I put ice on my leg and went back out and finished the show. Now that’s show business.”

Despite working through injury, Davis was hungry to act again when the show’s run ended. On the flight home from Halifax, he asked his mother if he could go back for more.

“I feel like I was born to perform,” Davis said. “I loved performing to sold out audiences and making the crowd laugh. I think my role at the Neptune Theatre really prepared me well.”

But Davis’s budding brilliance has not been confined to just the stage. He played the lead character in The Closet, a film in which he flawlessly executed the difficult proposition of playing his own twin.

“I had to be exact with where I stood to make sure the shot worked with both of us in the scene,” Davis said. “They edited it or layered the scene to make it look like there were two of me. You learn a lot being an actor.”

Davis’s rapidly expanding reservoir of acting knowledge continued to expand when he played the lead character in Volition, a film about a terrorist who saw the world through a different lens after he met Davis’ character on a train.

The film’s production schedule forced Davis to adapt, which he did with flying colors.

“We filmed late every night on the train, so I had to change the time I went to bed,” Davis said. “It was worth it and so much fun.”

Volition co-star Romaine Waite (Antisocial, One Night a Stranger) liked Davis’ performance so much that he asked the emerging star to be in a music video for rapper Pas Da’ Millz that Waite would later direct.

From stage to film, Davis has achieved more before his ninth birthday than many actors do in a lifetime. But the young Canadian has barely scratched the surface of his brilliance, and is already taking his career to the next level.

While in L.A. to receive his Young Artist Award earlier this year, Davis caught the attention of veteran Hollywood executive producer Irene Dreayer (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, The Suite Life on Deck, Smart Guy).

Dreayer’s known as an honest-but-tough executive producer who’s often told parents of young actors that L.A.’s not a starting point for a growing career, but rather an end result of a successful career. She’s usually recommended to families they go home, but that was not the case for Davis, according to the young actor’s parents.

Instead, Dreayer spent a lot of time convincing Davis’ parents that L.A. was where the sought after actor should be, according to Davis.

Most recently, the young thespian used his voiceover chops to portray the characters Brownie and Checkers in the animated TV series Super Why!, a popular, animated kids show about the magical adventures of reading-powered superheroes on PBS.

Whether on stage, film or television, Alexander Davis has proven himself to be a talented, reliable and dedicated actor who will no doubt make his presence felt in Hollywood and beyond for many years to come.

Born to Be a Star: Australian Triple Threat Jessica Waters

Jessica Waters
Actress Jessica Waters

Born into a family of entertainers, actress Jessica Waters has been in the spotlight her entire life. Together with her four siblings and her father, the lead singer of a local band, she was playing music, dancing and acting beginning at just five years old. By the time she was eight she had her heart set on acting professionally, and in the years since she has grown from one of the most promising young Australian talents into an international powerhouse of the screen.

In 2014, Waters joined the cast of The War That Changed Us, a four-part documentary drama series recounting the stories of real-life Australians who fought in World War I. Waters played a nurse traveling with soldiers on the front lines, and said she fell in love with the role.

“This has to be one of my favorite TV shows I have worked on,” Waters said. “I loved the costumes, and dressing in all the lovely clothes they wore really made me feel like I was back in that time, and I had to do some nurse training for the role.”

The War That Changed Us aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2014 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Australia’s entry into the war.

Recently, Waters acted alongside Sam Worthington (Avatar, Terminator: Salvation, Clash of the Titans) in Paper Planes. The film tells the story of a young boy who, after suffering the loss of his mother, finds solace and hope in a competition to design the ultimate paper airplane. Filmed in her hometown of Perth, Waters played the mother of one of the children competing in the whimsical tournament and said it was a fun project to be a part of. The film received nominations at both the Australian Directors’ Guild Awards and the Berlin International Film Festival.

In her latest television role, she plays an American reporter in the SyFy Channel adaptation of the Arthur C. Clarke classic novel Childhood’s End. As an Australian, the role was a unique challenge for her, and required a great deal of intensive voice training to master the accent required for the part.

“I’ve been training my American accent for a year,” she said. “They loved my accent, and I got the part on the spot.”

Childhood’s End is the first screen adaptation of the science fiction masterpiece. Following the arrival on Earth by a race of mysterious but benevolent aliens, the human race begins to thrive and prosper; however, almost immediately suspicions begin to grow among people about their new isolationist neighbors. As a reporter, Waters is on the scene to cover their arrival. The series airs on SyFy later in 2015.

Waters played a reporter once before in The Great Mint Swindle, the true story of a massive 1982 Australian heist where more than $2 million in gold bars were stolen from the Perth Mint. The crime remains unsolved, adding to the mystery and making it one of Western Australia’s greatest and most famous true crime stories.

“I love being in true stories,” Waters said. “The set was very Australian, and I enjoyed being a news reporter because if I didn’t decide to be an actor, I was going to be a TV reporter.”

Not limited to film and television, Waters’ experience as a performer shines in her work onstage as well.

“I have spent three years working with the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Western Australia,” Waters said. “I was not only an actor, but I was also the dance choreographer and a singer.”

In her time with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, she’s worked on iconic Shakespearean plays including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest and Comedy of Errors.

Audiences can catch Jessica Waters in her upcoming feature film Reality, a satirical comedy in which Waters plays the lead.

“I just know it’s going to be a fantastic film. The script is amazing,” she said. “I have a lead role and it’s a film that kind of makes fun of reality TV shows.”

Reality is currently in the process of filming so eager fans will have to wait to learn more about the project. However, it’s guaranteed to be a fresh look at a genre, which provides a goldmine of comedic fodder.

For Actress Alli McLaren, Performing Runs in Her Blood

Alli McLaren
                                              Actress Alli McLaren shot by David Lee

The vast array of roles masterfully portrayed by Alli McLaren are a testament to the striking technique she’s spent her entire life honing, both onstage and in front of the camera. Following in both her mother and grandmother’s footsteps, the Australian dynamo is a third generation actor in whom the art of performance is deeply engrained.

McLaren’s unique talents stem from so much more than the impressive combination of her inherited genetics, for her upbringing in the theatre and her years of rigorous and dedicated training have put her far above the rest. One of her strongest and most valuable assets is something too many actors lack – real-life experience.

In addition to her acting prowess, McLaren is also a talented and accomplished writer for the screen. McLaren wrote the upcoming film My Year of Silence based on her own experiences. The film follows McLaren as she plays Callie, a role that shines a spotlight on the painful reality of those who cope daily with mental illness and depression.

For years, McLaren fought tirelessly to overcome long and difficult battles with illness and depression. Through that struggle, she gained an intimate and personal understanding of the peaks and depths of human emotion and an insight into the human psyche that is clearly displayed in every part she’s played. From the masterful way that she has transformed herself into the mind and body of every character she has taken on, audiences can expect yet another dazzling performance from the actress as Callie in the upcoming film My Year of Silence, which is being produced by White Night Films.

Though her dramatic flair is impeccable, her recent role in A Writer’s Block, also produced by White Night Films, gave her a chance to show off both her action and comedic chops. The project centers around two writers as the plot of their latest film begins to come to life. McLaren’s character Sophie, one of the characters in the two writers’ script, is kidnapped, and the ensuing rescue mission her older brother embarks on to save her forms the backbone of the film. The quick-action, fights and shootouts were a far cry from her other more cerebral and introspective roles, but in no time she mastered the dance-like combat moves with grace and professionalism — and a little bit of fun, too.

“There was a lot of stage fighting choreography involved in this shoot, which was new to me,” said McLaren. “But I felt like a ninja doing it, which kind of rocked.”

In one of her most powerful roles, McLaren played the lead in Infidelity, directed by Emmy Award-winning actress Blanche Baker. Based on a French script, the film centers around an experiment meant to study the faithfulness of men versus women in committed relationships.

McLaren’s character, Gretchen, is the person responsible for conducting the experiment, and as such, she holds complete control over its success. “Gretchen was really the female power in this film,” McLaren said. “It felt great to play a character with so much power and so much control.”

An exceptional actress by anyone’s standards, McLaren’s upcoming projects include the 2016 release of My Year of Silence as well as a likely sequel to follow, in addition to a planned sequel to A Writer’s Block. The young starlet will no doubt continue to raise the bar for fellow actors across the industry as a whole; and as audiences flock to My Year of Silence, they’ll no doubt witness the internationally sought after talent set new standards for dramatic writing as well.

A Knockout from the Theatre to the Screen!

Alex Luukkonen
Alex Luukkonen in “Ravenscroft” shot by Julio J. Vargas

The incredible stage and screen talents of Scandinavian actor Alex Luukkonen have moved audiences to laughs and tears on three continents, and his latest projects are without a doubt some of his most ambitious to date. A native of Finland, he’s also worked throughout Europe, Asia and the U.S., which has taught him the intricate nature of the human condition, the common denominators of mankind beyond any cultural differences.

Luukkonen, in one of his many theatre roles, joined Academy Award winner Milton Justice’s (Down and Out in America) cast in a production of Clifford Odets’ classic Waiting for Lefty. Set in the years before World War II, the play consists of a series of vignettes, which tie together to address the prominent issues of the impending war, the struggle of workers in the Great Depression, the fear of growing communist sympathies and love trying to survive the desperate times.

In his role as Miller, a chemist with a moral quandary and one of the leading characters, Luukkonen worked closely with the esteemed Justice to perfect his performance. Miller, a lab assistant, is told by his boss that he will be given a raise and promotion but that he must now work under a chemist tasked with developing chemical weapons. An argument erupts between Miller and his boss, and in one of the more dramatic events in the play, Miller angrily refuses the job after punching his boss.

In addition to his role in Waiting for Lefty, as well as the productions of other iconic plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and Grease, Luukkonen is also a seasoned actor on the silver screen where his innate skill and charm complemented by his worldly experience make all of his performances something to write home about.

One of Luukkonen’s latest projects, Pastry, is slated for release this year. The film examines the pressure that society places on women to conform to preconceived standards of body image and sexuality. Directed by Eduardo Barreto, Luukkonen acts alongside Maureen Younger who plays Caroline in the film, a young woman who falls in love with a waitress and lets go of her obsession with dieting. Pastry is a delectably sweet work of powerful social critique that showcases Luukkonen’s acting prowess.

Luukkonen, whose character bears witness to the gradual process of Caroline’s enlightenment, admits that it was an incredible experience working with the British cast of the film.

“Theater is the king in London,” said Luukkonen. “So you get a lot more theater trained and talented people overall per capita.”

Recently, he played the inquisitive son of a detective in Outsider, an exciting pilot starring Luukkonen and Dean Bruggeman. In it, Luukkonen’s character discovers a startling video of a man being held captive by a psycho in clown makeup. He brings it to his father, played by Bruggeman (Don’t Pass Me By, The Time Capsule), who digs into the case. It all leads up to a shocking cliffhanger, which is sure to leave viewers on the edge of their seats.

In every role that he’s played to date Luukkonen’s passion for his craft shines through so clearly that it is almost tangible. That kind of performance, delivery and dedication comes only from love, and it is obvious in everything that he’s done that Luukkonen truly loves his art.

“I chose acting because I love it, and fortunately, I had the opportunity to pursue it,” he said. “I wish more people had the chance to pursue their dreams.”