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'On Beckett' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

On Beckett, created and performed by Bill Irwin, is a celebration of and discussion about the work of famed dramatist Samuel Beckett.

Irwin begins his performance, his presentation, by laying out precisely what the evening will entail–a clean summary of the texts that will be dramatized and considered, and for approximately how long the show will run. He speaks to the audience in a friendly, familiar manner. A few times throughout the roughly 90-minute performance, he mentions that he hopes he's not coming off too "artsy."

Irwin leaves the audience with this qualification before diving into Beckett's text: He is not a biographer; he is an actor with an intimate knowledge of Beckett's works as one can only possess when one repeatedly speaks a writer's words aloud.

The humility is nice. The last thing I want to listen to is a pretentious intellectual tell me how to interpret Samuel Beckett for 90 minutes. Irwin makes it clear that that's not what this is. 

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'Deadly' by Sacred Fools

Sacred Fools Theater Company's world premiere of Deadly, a new musical by playwright/lyricist Vanessa Claire Stewart and directed by Jaime Robledo, is about the victims of notorious serial killer H. H. Holmes. 

In the author's note printed in the program, Stewart writes about discovering H. H. Holmes' story (via "binge-watching the History Channel"). Though the gruesome details of his killings were enthusiastically offered up, "the victims and their stories vanish[ed] into the ether." 

So Stewart set out to create a show that focused on the stories of the women gone too soon at the hands of Holmes. And she did just that. 

Deadly is so clearly written by a woman. The entire production is littered with empathy–it can be found in the smallest of nooks and crannies. The script does not just tell the story of a serial killer and why he did what he did and how he did what he did, it tells the story of some of the first cries of feminism, sisterhood, motherhood. 

'Pockets' at Hollywood Fringe

Pockets is a very silly story about the importance of family, the double standard female rulers face, and the root of criminal activity in any given society.

The world of Pockets takes place in the kingdom of Crumpeton, a fictional kingdom that celebrates, above all else, crumpets. Ruling while her husband is away is the Duchess (Kat Primeau), mother to the young Bellamina (Molly Dworsky). Bellamina feels neglected by her mother ever since she took over for her father and turns to a life of crime in protest. She becomes Pockets, the new, hot, young pickpocket on the streets of Crumpeton. Her one goal? Make life a little harder for her neglectful mother, the Duchess.

Along the way, Bellamina realizes a special gift she possesses (in addition to her natural knack for pickpocketing): the ability to get people to listen to one another. Single-handedly she unites groups of criminals to work for a common goal, and, later, helps her mother to become a better ruler and parent.

With a cast of …

'Happy Days' at the Mark Taper Forum

When life starts to feel monotonous, when you start to feel alone in your marriage, when the earth begins to pile up around you and you fear you might be buried alive, remember the gun in your purse.

Happy Days, directed by James Bundy,is a piece of absurdist theatre by Samuel Beckett. It's the story of Winnie (played by Dianne Wiest) and Willie (played by Michael Rudko) living out their golden years in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

When the curtain lifts, we see Winnie, buried up to her waist in the desolate sand that fills the stage, a beautiful, sad black corset exposed–hinting at what her life used to be before it happened, before she was buried. The sky is piercing blue. The lighting, by Stephen Strawbridge, is clinical, as if we, the audience, are peering into a forbidden display at The Natural History Museum.

Winnie begins to babble. "Another heavenly day." She speaks, largely, about how to fill her time–how she mustn't waste her more thrilling activities (suc…

'Rotterdam' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

Rotterdam, written by Jon Brittain and directed by Michael A. Shepperd, takes place in–you guessed it–Rotterdam, a port city in the Netherlands, on New Year's Eve. Nothing stays in Rotterdam for long. It's a port city, after all. A sort of dockyard purgatory where everything and everyone is coming and going. Josh (Ryan Brophy), Lelani (Audrey Cain), Fiona (Ashey Romans), and Alice (Miranda Wynne) have all begun to sprout accidental roots and are starting to feel unsettled.

The play begins with Alice penning an email to her parents to let them know that she's a lesbian and very much in love with Fiona. Inspired by her girlfriend's honesty, Fiona reveals that she's always identified as a man and would like to start outwardly living as one. He begins to go by Adrian. What follows is an incredibly honest dialogue about identity, gender politics, and love.

Along the way, we learn how our four characters ended up in the port city of Rotterdam. Alice took a job there hopin…

'The Elephant Man' at El Portal Theatre

Based on a true story, The Elephant Man, directed by Robyn Cohen, follows the life of Joseph Merrick, a man who began developing societally deemed grotesque deformities at the age of 5 due to a rare condition called Proteus Syndrome. The play, written by Bernard Pomerance, begins with Merrick (Tom Vitorino) "performing" as a human oddity spectacle in 1884 England. He is soon rescued from the abusive humiliation the traveling circus had been subjecting him to by a doctor named Frederick Treves (the solid, believable John Ralston Craig). Dr. Treves takes Merrick in to live at the London Hospital where he works. In the hospital, Merrick is taunted by workers and shrieked at by passers-by. These taunters and shriekers are immediately punished and scolded by Dr. Treves, in an effort to set an example for the rest of the hospital staff and inhabitants, and to teach Merrick that, in the hospital, he can expect to be treated with respect.

Slowly, Merrick transforms from a feared fo…

'Lackawanna Blues' at the Mark Taper Forum

Lackawanna Blues: "a magical, musical reminiscence," the Mark Taper Forum program promises.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson is the writer, director, and sole performer of this imaginative, character-driven tale. Accompanying him on stage is typically Chris Thomas King (though in this performance I had the pleasure of watching Daryl Darden) on guitar. The original music featured in the production was composed by Bill Sims Jr., who passed away this year and who this show is dedicated to.

This is not the first time Santiago-Hudson has performed Lackawanna Blues. It originally premiered at The Public Theater in New York in 2001, where it was produced by George C. Wolfe and directed by Loretta Greco. Eighteen years later and Santiago-Hudson has taken the directorial reins himself.

After seeing the show, it only made sense to me that Santiago-Hudson is now his own director. The characters and storytelling are so deeply personal. Were another person to impose their direction, it might have c…