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In the past two months, I’ve seen three live shows. Which really isn’t a lot, but it’s easily the most I’ve been to the theater in that time span my whole life. Theater has always been something I wanted to get more into, but sometimes things get in the way so I feel fortunate I have been able to see as many as I have. Now I’ve come to really enjoy live theater and can’t wait to see more (like I really want to see “Fela!” which is closing in San Francisco this weekend). The great thing is the three shows I did see were all very different from each other yet all still enjoyable in their own way. The shows varied from real big budget affairs, to smaller up and coming showcases. They each dealt with a number of serious social issues, but also maintained some lightness and humor about them. Of course some were better than others, but just being there was satisfying enough. So here’s the run down.

This past weekend in Hollywood was the opening week of Michael Coulombe’s “You Can Call Me Eve” a tragic, but hopeful play he wrote, and director by Hector Rodriguez does a amazing job of bringing the complex characters to life. Though it’s a small play in a small theater, it packs a huge emotional punch. The show feels so authentic and real at times you almost forget you are watching actors playing their roles.

The play opens with Eve (Marina Palmier) formerly Rosa, and older Latina woman who talks about her journey to this new persona she adopted as a result of the devastating events in her life. She goes back to her life as a young Rosa (Natalie Camanus), a naive love-struck girl who marries young with an almost delusional optimism about her future. Until her older sister (Misha Gonz-Cirkl) dies and Rosa is left with her teen son Danny (Henry Alberto) to raise with her husband Carlos (Alex Rodrigo). That’s when Danny’s story (easily the most difficult role to play emotionally, and thankfully Alberto pulls it off like a true star) is unveiled as  a conflicted youth who is battling with his homosexuality in the late 70’s, which causes conflict in their strictly Catholic home, forcing Danny to runaway and brewing more problems with Rosa and Carlos’ marriage.

Danny finds happiness eventually when he meets a loving and supportive boyfriend Eric (Peter DiVito), who Rosa also learns to love. Shortly after Rosa finds some peace and happiness in the company of her nephew and his boyfriend, tragedy strikes again. Continual heartbreaks and tragedies and loss of faith start the beginning of Rosa transforming herself into Eve. The hurt and pain she suffered in just the 20 or so years the play spans turns her into a stronger woman that can no longer go down the expected path of a Catholic Latina woman, and she is able to start a new life as the show progresses.

The play, though very sad, is very well paced and never felt long and that’s thanks to the direction of Rodriguez and writer Michael Coulombe. All of the actors committed and effectively pulled off the emotional weight their characters had to go through, but actors Marina Palmier and Peter DiVito stole the show for me. Eric’s role was actually too short lived as he was the shining light of love and positivity that balanced out the somber leaning portions of the play. Whereas Eve, who was present throughout the whole show narrating her story, was genuine and confident and really made us believe that Eve would be fine in the end. Palmier did an amazing job of making her feel real, and engaging the audience as if we were all close friends she was spilling her heart out to. A very inspirational story, and a story that will touch the hearts of anybody whose dealt with grief, love, or just wanting to break out of a shell (which pretty much covers everybody!).  Just remember to bring tissues.

“You Can Call Me Eve” (@YouCanCallMeEver) is currently playing in Hollywood’s Write Act Repertory, Tickets available here

When it comes to “Race“, a David Mamet written play, there is a bunch of nice dialogue and issues to sink your teeth into. However this big budget play tends to lack any of the heart or emotion that “Eve” possessed. Famous for the very talky “Glengarry Glen Ross”, this Mamet play follows suit in being abundant with words… almost too abundant. The play takes place in a law office, where a wealthy white man (Kevin O’Rourke) comes to potentially hire a firm co-partnered by a black man to try and beat a rape accusation brought on by a middle to lower class black woman. What follows is conversation after conversation about whether the firm should take his case and why, whether they believe him or not, and whether they feel morally right about the whole situation.

Several issues of race, power, class-ism and morals spring up as the three main characters go back and forth with their feelings. The partners (played intensely by Chris Butler and Anthony Rusco) debate about evidence that’s constantly coming into play, while their apprentice (Susan Heyward) challenges and debates their techniques and morals in the case. There are definitely some intense moments and even a lot of humor throughout, but somehow the show spoke of so many issues without ever really saying anything.

When I first heard about the play, I was excited to see how Mamet would tackle such a sensitive subject in America. And while it felt like they brought up a number of great issues involving race in the US, it also felt like they brought them up and didn’t really go into further detail which left the play a little underwhelming. The show wasn’t without it’s merits though, the acting was top notch across the board but specifically Anthony Fusco as one of the partners at the law firm. He was the standout performance with being able to pull off some genuine intensity, but also very much charismatic and true to life.  The direction by Irene Lewis was also near flawless, the main problem was that for all the talking not much was really dealt with. And even though the surprising little plot twists and admissions were exciting, it just never really went anywhere before the rather abrupt ending.

The most fun I’ve had at the theater (ever!) was watching “Hair“, a show which opened in the late 60’s that I was very familiar with due to the score and film adaptation. Seeing it live was a truly amazing experience as it was right up my alley. Very music heavy and set in mid-60’s, the American history era I love the most. A storyline involving the threat of going to battle in the Vietnam war was strung together in between the cavalcade of finely crafted and well-executed songs, but it really was just an after thought. The main greatness of this show is it’s genuine feel of the 60’s Counter Culture movement, for two acts you really felt like you were transported to that time. And with the energy of all the performers, their dialogue, just the whole vibe of the show really drew in the audience and truly made them part of the Tribe of free-spirits on stage.

A huge part of the success in that area has to do with the amazing set, which was able to work as a Hippie flop house and a more public hang-out spot thanks to the vintage set pieces and accessories that adorned and transformed the stage. Director Diane Paulus did a tremendous job with the staging, along with Karole Armitage’s choreography they worked together to make each moment shine. And it paid of to perfection for each of the over 30 songs and the sporadic sketches in between.

The entire cast really gave it their all as well, they all had tremendous comic talent as well as great pipes. The entire “Tribe” worked so well together, yet each one made strong impressions and were able to stand out with their small, but constant solo bits. Of course there were a the stand outs you couldn’t wait to see and hear more of.

As one of the central characters (and probably the one with the most emotional versatility) Claude, Paris Remillard did a very convincing job. And member of the “Tribe” and show opener Phyre Hawkins was strong and sassy and full of vocal power and technique in her performance. And Will Blum as Margaret Mead was a hilarious comedic moment, and he worked every second of it.

However the bonafied star of the show was Steel Burkhardt as Berger who is basically the shows heart. He did an excellent job of being witty, charming, playful with the audience and even at times heartfelt.

There were just so many great moments, so many things you’d want to see again and again. It almost felt like a 60’s Rock and Roll concert at times, and than it was like a Hippie version of “Laugh-In” with quick little skits leading to amazing songs and amazing performances. I saw it on a Thursday and couldn’t wait to see it again, unfortunately it closed that weekend. Still it was easily the best show I’ve seen, because it gave me the chance to sort of live in a time I almost feel like I should have been part of.