2003 Garland Awards from Back Stage West
• Murray Mednick – Playwriting, G-nome
• Guy Zimmerman – Directing, G-nome
2003 Ovation Awards
• Norbert Weisser – Lead Actor, Times Like These
• Laurie O’Brien – Lead Actress, Times Like These
2002 Los Angeles Drama Critics
• Margaret Harford Award for Sustained Excellence in Theater
• Murray Mednick and Padua Playwrights
2002 Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Award
• John O’Keefe – Writing, Times Like These
2002 LA Weekly Awards Nominations
• Laurie O’Brien – Leading Female Performance, Times Like These
• Norbert Weisser – Leading Male Performance, Times Like These
• John O’Keefe – Playwriting, Times Like These
• Jason Adams – Set Design, Dog Mouth
• Rand Ryan – Lighting Design, Dog Mouth
• Karl Lundeberg – Sound Design, Dog Mouth
Los Angeles Times “Theater Reviewers’ Notable Shows of 2002 Top 10 List”
• Times Like These by John O’Keefe
The New York Times “Theater: The Year in Review – 10 Moments”
• Annabelle Gurwitch as Betty in Joe and Betty by Murray Mednick
Daily News “Top 10 Shows of 2002”
• Dog Mouth by John Steppling
LA Weekly “Craggiest Actor of 2002” (Steven Leigh Morris)
• John Horn – Wilfredo
Curtainup.com “2002 Retrospective Top 10 List”
• Wilfredo by Wesley Walker
• Times Like These by John O’Keefe
Entertainment Today “Best of Theater 2002”
• John Steppling – Playwright, Dog Mouth
• Jason Adams – Set Design, Dog Mouth
Los Angeles Times “Top 10 for 2001” (Michael Phillips)
• Joe and Betty by Murray Mednick
LA Weekly “Top 10 for 2001” (Steven Leigh Morris)
• Mrs. Feuerstein by Murray Mednick
American Theatre Critics’ Association/Steinberg New Play Citation ($5,000)
• Joe and Betty by Murray Mednick 2001 Garland Award from Back Stage West
• Murray Mednick – Local Hero Award for a Distinguished Body of Work in 2001
2001 LA Weekly Awards
• Maria O’Brien – Leading Female Performance, Mrs. Feuerstein
• Murray Mednick – Career Achievement Award
• (Also, nominations – Murray Mednick, Playwritiing and Roxanne Rogers, Direction, Mrs. Feuerstein)
2001 Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Award
• Maria O’Brien – Lead Performance, Mrs. Feuerstein
2001 Maddy Awards (given by theater reviewer Madeleine Shaner)
• Murray Mednick – Playwriting, Mrs. Feuerstein
• Maria O’Brien – Performance, Mrs. Feuerstein
Times Friday, July 4, 2003
A riveting, jazzy onstage presence
Fans of Murray Mednick’s sophistry-laden style may be interested in “G-nome,” now receiving its world premiere at the Powerhouse Theatre in a co-production with Padua Playwrights Productions.
Intimates of the celebrated author of “Mrs. Feuerstein” and “Fedunn” might feel more rewarded still, since “G-nome” finds Mednick onstage essentially playing himself, in a jazz-flavored reverie on heredity.
The title, one of many in-jokes, derives from “gnome,” as the head-miked Mednick describes one of his relatives, perusing old family photographs while the images are projected behind him. Concurrently, actors Christopher Allport and Lynnda Ferguson embody the various corners of Mednick’s memories and mind-set. Hyper-poetic associations ensue, taking in Holocaust survivors Primo Levi and Paul Celan and ending on a note of oblique hope.
Director Guy Zimmerman oversees a smart presentation, with Rand Ryan’s lighting typically superb and Robert Oriol’s music and sound most striking.
Allport and Ferguson are estimable, shifting personas and realities like two scat singers effortlessly riffing around a dominant theme.
This would be Mednick, not an actor but an idiosyncratic modern playwright in love with language. His presence riveted the opening night audience and certainly Mednick’s Jackie-Mason-meets-Spalding-Gray deadpan carries its own wry authority.
“G-nome,” Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Aug. 3. Mature
audiences. $20. (866) 633-6246. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
LA WEEKLY July 3- July 92, 2003
Murray Mednick’s engrossing tour de force is not the play to see if you want cheerful consolation on themes of mortality and depression. Nor is it for you if you like your theater spoon fed and easily digested. Mednick’s intellectually challenging writing consists of fragments of dialogue interspersed with free-form, Beat-poetic phrases that seem calculatedly random. Yet, the play possesses the immediacy and evocative power of concentrated, shorthand emotion. Mednick himself is the show’s center, portraying middle-aged Emile, who recalls the sorrows of the past as he peruses photos of his Old Country parents and grandparents. Backed by a pair of actors (Lynnda Ferguson and Christopher Allport), who alternate between tormenting Emile with ironic commentary and fleshing out his memories with passionate anecdote, Mednick’s Emile meditates on aging and the impact that our ancestors have on our present behavior. He also digresses into what seems to be an obliquely confusing aside on the suicides of Holocaust survivors and Jewish literati Primo Levi and Paul Celan – irrelevant until we realize that the deaths touch on the lead character’s own underlying, unassuageable despair. Director Guy Zimmerman’s cracklingly paced production is more akin to a jazz concert than a traditional theater piece, with the gravel-voiced, craggy-faced Mednick offering cunningly underplayed line readings that set a near-hypnotic rhythm. Padua Playwrights Production at the Powerhouse Theater, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; mats Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 3. (866) 633-6246. Written 7/6/03
Review: 16 Routines Did you hear the one about the actor who “went up” and never came back down? Padua Hills Playwrights Workshop founder Murray Mednick has penned a surreal comedic journey through the traumatized mindscape of Martin Greenspan (William Mesnik), a performer who has been rendered catatonic by the experience of forgetting his lines onstage and has been confined to the Home for Distressed Actors. Featuring an amazingly synergistic ensemble under the intuitive guidance of Wesley Walker, Mednick’s series of scenic sketches develops as darkly comedic Beckettesque vaudeville “routines” that feature a hint of the repetition patter stylings of Gertrude Stein.
The onstage action is a realization of Martin’s dilemma, trapped in a shadow world midway between the frenzied terror of “going up” completely and the salvation of “remembering his lines.” Each scene unfolds like a bizarre variation of one of those classic hospital burlesque sketches that always featured a zany doctor, a wisecracking nurse and a hapless patient. Benign but incommunicative Martin is bombarded by the attentions of Dr. Funk (Rene Assa), his nurse, Mrs. Graves (Peggy Blow), his ex-partner, Beryl (Maria O’Brien), and the husband-and-wife sitcom team of Max (Ryan Cutrona) and Martha (Grace Zabriskie), fellow patients who are suffering from blown television careers. Making cameo appearances are Beryl’s ill-tempered ex-husband, Snooky (John Pappas) and Martin’s thoroughly disapproving aunt. Shirley Greenspan (Tina
Mednick, aided immensely by Walker’s stylized expositional staging, deliciously interweaves the useless curative musings of Funk, the wry observations of Graves, the pitiful efforts of Beryl to reconnect with her former partner, and the quarrelsome dissatisfaction of Max and Martha, who are desperately trying to hold someone responsible for their own plight. Their agendas swirl about Martin, who occasionally emerges from his ennui to offer literate but irrelevant commentary.
The dialogue is often used as repetitive riffs that underscore Martin’s efforts to be active in the process of restoring his life. Along the way, Mednick injects tantalizing musings on art and civilization. When Martin eventually resurfaces, it is with the realization that whether he remembers his lines or not is of no consequence to himself or the world around him.
Mesnik’s Martin is so effectively within himself that the mere suggestion of conscious interaction from him is captivating. O’Brien is perfect as the talentless sad-sack Beryl, who has no existence beyond being Martin’s slapstick partner. Whenever they’re onstage, Cutrona (“Postcards From the Edge”) and Zabriskie (“Twin Peaks”) dominate the proceedings as the small-screen duo who vehemently refuse to admit they have been defeated by their own inadequacies.
Julio Martinez, Variety
Review: Mrs. Feuerstein Murray Mednick’s “Mrs. Feuerstein,” the third and final play in Padua Playwrights’ all-Mednick season at 2100 Square Feet, is a challenging, rich, sometimes confusing drama that confronts the nature of evil head-on, with no easy answers. The similarities to Mednick’s “Joe and Betty,” the second play of the season, are profound, as are the differences. The central figures in both plays are tortured, neurotic Jewish women who stumble through life in a miasma of psychic misery. For Betty, the debased mother of “Joe and Betty,” the misery is perversely self-imposed, a generational tic of negativism arising from the
ever-present possibility of religious persecution.
For Mrs. Feuerstein, a Holocaust survivor-turned-poet, the experience of persecution has been up-close and horribly personal. Betty is pitiably devoid of the analytical powers to acknowledge her plight or to change her circumstances. Conversely and ironically, Mrs. Feuerstein has spent a lifetime in increasingly obsessive analysis of the evil that she will never be able to fathom or forgive. “Feuerstein” is set in a small private girls’ school, where the esteemed but impecunious Adele Feuerstein (Maria O’Brien) has taken a teaching position. The time is not specified, but the hemlines on Bridget Phillips’ bright costumes
suggest the 1960s.
The focus of Jeffrey Atherton’s stark set is a vase of bright red flowersan accent echoing the sanguinary elegance of Mrs. Feuerstein’s new associate Max Wohl (Christopher Allport) and his wife, Freida (Lynnda Ferguson). German emigres, Max and Freida inspire the fictionalized Nazi characters in the new play that Mrs. Feuerstein is writing, an increasingly lurid exercise that ultimately threatens to unhinge her sanity.
Mednick’s play-within-a-play concept fascinates, even when it blurs into the gratuitous. Under Roxanne Rogers’ astute direction, and abetted by Rand Ryan’s lighting and O-Lan Jones’ music, O’Brien delivers a towering and protean performance, capturing but never reconciling the enigma of her character, who is alternately a cringing victim and an avenging angel of righteous rage.
F. Kathleen Foley, LA Times
Review: Mrs. Feuerstein “The sound of words makes another dimension,” says Mrs. Feuerstein (Maria O’Brien), obviously speaking for playwright Murray Mednick in Mrs. Feuerstein, his final play of a recent trio. (All three plays – the others are 16 Routines and Joe and Betty – were produced this year at 2100 Square Feet, as the opening season of Padua Playwrights Productions.) “There is the dimension of history,” she tells the guidance counselor at the upper-crust American high school at which she teaches. “Like an echo. It is what is meant by text.”
Among other echoes for Mrs. Feuerstein is the memory of her Jewish family’s murder in Poland by local Nazi sympathizers; generations later, she’s an impoverished poet and playwright, and a recent hire teaching creative writing to uninterested American children. Barely scraping by and bearing a fraudulent resume, Mrs. Feuerstein harbors fantasies of revenge against a pair of German faculty members, Max Wohl (Christopher Allport) and his crippled wife, Freida (Lynnda Ferguson), but particularly against Freida, who, Mrs. Feuerstein believes, was a bemused, champagne-swilling witness to the slaughter of dozens of Jews – including Mrs. F.’s parents – in that Polish village. (Mednick acknowledges having incorporated this idea from Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s 1997 book Hitler’s Willing Executioners.)
Still, if we’re to believe Mrs. Feuerstein (though there’s plenty of reason why we shouldn’t, given her whimsical penchant for baiting people with lies and half-truths), the core of meaning resides not so much in such atrocities as in “the sounds of [the] words” used to describe them – an insight that goes a long way toward explaining the language-centric body of Mednick’s writings, and the sundry theater groups his influence has engendered (most recently Padua Playwrights Productions and Oxblood Theater Company). In a later scene, Mrs. Feuerstein explains to her shrink, Jane (Gwendoline Yeo) – whom, she repeatedly insists, she cannot and will not pay – how “in the old Hebrew, there’s no future, there’s no tense, there is only presence, which is either perfect or imperfect, finished or unfinished, and the saying is an action . . . The words are the meaning.” This idea supplements an earlier tearful lament, to the counselor, that children no longer read: “They have taken away the text . . . I feel sorry for the young, for it will be a world without meaning.”
It makes perfect sense, then, that Feuerstein’s revenge against Freida should be exacted not in the action of the play proper, but as the construct of a play-within-the-play that Mrs. Feuerstein is writing, about a “fictional” Mrs. F. and Freida – a “working something out,” as Jane puts it, toward the essence of revenge, a theme that, extended, manages to ensnare current horrors in the Middle East. Mednick mingles all this into a Genet-like lesbian fantasy between Mrs. F. and Freida that toys with the linkages among eroticism, psychology and power. It also makes sense that Jane should be of Asian descent – far from a mere casting choice, the ethnicity is written into the play – providing the shrink with the appearance, at least, of analytical impartiality toward Mrs. Feuerstein’s anguish, an appearance derived from their cultural divide.
At least half the play, it seems, consists of Feuerstein discussing with Jane the creation of that second play (with a few of its scenes enacted on the stage), or of scenes in which Jane’s shrink (Louis R. Plante) analyzes her interactions with Mrs. Feuerstein. Indeed, Mednick seems far more invested in analysis than he is in action, a dubious theatrical strategy that is salvaged only by the intelligence of the ideas and the terse dramatic rhythms of the words that convey them.
Among the delights of Roxanne Rogers’ staging is the subtlety with which the two plays blur into each other on Jeffrey Atherton’s austere, elegant set of polished hardwood. Then there’s the excellent cast, O’Brien in particular, whose eyes contain a kind of hound-dog sadness. This, in conjunction with her squeaky-kid voice and rim-shot delivery, combines into a riveting mix of textures – a world-weariness that might, at any moment, plunge into despondency but for the occasional flicker of impishness, of an inner kindness that surfaces from beneath her torment. She may not be a disciplinarian with the kids – she’s far too ruminative and self-absorbed for that. Yet in her scenes with Freida, she gets in dig after dig like a bully with no center at all, attacking, withdrawing, reflecting, and attacking again. She’s a remarkable creation, by Mednick and O’Brien, both of whom are clearly – as Jane describes it – “working something out.”
Steven Leigh Morris, LA Weekly
The Inside Job
Reviewed By Jennie Webb
Oh, the terrible things men say when women aren’t around, particularly when the men are high-powered movers and shakers?and ass-fondlers?having a “good year.” And what a sort of perverse pleasure it is to watch these men confront their own hideous actions and rationalizations when they have fallen from grace and lost it all, including the ability to fondle. It’s tricky, though. If there’s nothing going on, our guilty voyeurism can easily become about everything and nothing and inconsequential. In Guy Zimmerman’s luxuriously nasty The Inside Job, our man in a blue quality suit, Max (Barry del Sherman), is on the downside after his “one good year,” the time in which he reigned supreme before ensuring his demise by “presiding over the greatest financial debacle of history.” Now, Max and his exquisitely beautiful wife, Victoria (Jessica Margaret Dean), live in a cheap, “rat-like” condo in the San Fernando Valley. Their only view is up the hill at the gated estate they once owned, now occupied by the bane of Max’s Rutgers-educated existence. And on this particular night, they received a party invitation from Max’s former classmate, hand-delivered by a strangely familiar girl with dangerous airs–and a way with an office Espresso cart–named Heidi (Holly Ramos). Sure. This could be the everyday pablum of Lifetime television. But in Zimmerman’s sensationally unforgiving hands, The Inside Job is trademark Padua Playwrights. Stylized and most definitely theatrical, there’s a lot of Zimmerman’s smart and piercing writing that fully hits home. Because admit it: In this violent age of excess and corporate warfare, we’re all chomping at the bit for a brutal examination of the heartless, privileged people behind the intrigue. Zimmerman’s self-professed “language-based approach” offers up fabulous morsels like shrimp cocktail party strategies, rage-filled relationships and “affectionless predicaments,” the price of one’s generosity and the intoxicating rhythms of prophetic speech. Under the playwright’s sure-handed direction, the actors each have delicious bits that momentarily satisfy, Jeffrey Atherton’s striking set does its job, and Robert Oriol is in his usual fine form with original music/sound design.
“The Inside Job”
Theater: 2100 Square Feet Theatre Location: 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A. Phone:
(323) 692-2652. Starts: November 08, 2003 Ends: December 07, 2003 Evenings: Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Price: $20 Presented by: Padua Playwrights Productions
Los Angeles Times November 14, 2003
‘Inside Job’ firm in its core beliefs by Rob Kendt
Guy Zimmerman’s “The Inside Job” at least has the courage of its own presumptions. It wastes no energy arguing the points it takes as foundational truths: Soulless corporate crooks are our true rulers, the Enron scandals presage a lawless republic ruled by brute force, and Texas is evil’s hell mouth.
Zimmerman simply imagines, in the bleached, arid, often haunting manner we’ve come to recognize as the Padua Playwrights style, a cool, matter-of-fact apocalypse, reflected by three its unwitting but all-too-willing handmaidens.
Actually, one of the three knows more about what’s afoot than she first lets on. Heidi (Holly Ramos), a frosted-blond urchin in black boots and tiny dress, emerges as the unlikely nexus among Max (Barry del Sherman), a disgraced but unrepentant white-collar plunderer; Victoria (Jessica Margaret Dean), his icily grasping wife; and the offstage Renner, a murderous tycoon ardently feared and admired by the others.
In a series of portentous blackout scenes punctuated by Robert Oriol’s eerie sound cues (Oriol also designed the stark lighting, Jeffrey Atherton the primary-color set), Max chatteringly plots a comeback, Victoria alternates between catatonia and calculation, and Heidi knowingly manipulates both, to enigmatic ends.
Zimmerman’s direction is sure and supple, his text tight, teasing and self-contained, and his cast strikingly in tune with his unblinkingly bleak vision.
The opening night audience seemed similarly attuned, particularly to such observations as, “Stupidity in foreign affairs is the mark of a great power; only the truly powerful can afford to be stupid,” or, “These people never admit they’re wrong – they just declare victory and move on.” If that’s your cup of iced tea, it is served crisply here, without sweetener.
“The Inside Job,” presented by Padua Playwrights Productions at 2100 Square Feet, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 7. $20. (323) 692-2652. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Mythology, Banal Reality Mix in a Bueno ‘Wilfredo’
“I’M HAPPY I UNDERSTAND SO LITTLE–I WISH I UNDERSTOOD LESS,” declares an amiable cuckold in Wesley Walker’s “Wilfredo” from Padua Playwrights Productions. He’s come to the right place. Conventional expectations of theatrical meaning and content are a liability in writer/director Walker’s surreal collision of banal Southern California existence with the fluid boundaries of ancient mythology and the dream world. Set in a highly stylized Tijuana saloon, Wesley’s fertile imagination weaves a hauntingly beautiful and at the same time ominous series of elliptical encounters between people who act out of unfiltered impulses rather than socially dictated norms. The barkeep Wilfredo (John Horn), sets the tone with his obsessive insistence on not being addressed by anything other than his proper name. With perfect dry timing, he catalogs his unacceptable nicknames and the reasons why–as if reality can only be defined by what it is not. What matters most to Wilfredo is his “bueno”–his life force, embodied in a pair of coins he’s stolen from the clueless cuckold Nester (Barry Del Sherman), the antithesis of his all-wise Homeric predecessor, Nestor. While at bottom this is a simple boy-meets-bueno, boy-loses-bueno, boy-recovers-bueno story, forsaking the mundane world of cause and effect for the unconscious leaves an expansive canvas to play with. It’s also a frustrating one to try to parse for literal sense. The best way to appreciate this work is to let it wash over you, and let its message emerge from the often poetic repetition of phrases and themes. The effort is rewarded, thanks to exceptional performances that wring intriguing characters out of Walker’s opaque slates. As a pair of American visitors who oscillate between control and helplessness, George Gerdes and Jack Kehler dissect shallow L.A. values as they lurch about in the throes of conflicts that harken uneasily back to Oedipus. Both are attracted like moths to the pretty barmaid Roberta (Christine Marie Burke), an enigmatic, absent-minded muse with overtones of Medea. O-Lan Jones is an earthy presence as Nester’s wife. Walker’s evocative staging makes brilliant use of music by Robert Oriol–some of the images linger like dream fragments long after we’ve returned to more familiar landscapes.
Steven Philip Brandes, LA Times
Review: Dog Mouth Fans of John Steppling won’t be disappointed with “Dog Mouth,” the latest work from a playwright whose bite is as impressively bleak as his bark. Others might not be so generous. With Steppling, you always get what you pay for, and with “Dog Mouth,” which he also directs, the price is particularly steep.
Steppling returns to the L.A. stage community from which he sprang, after an absence of nearly 10 years, with a fresh supply of his favorite ammunition — alienation.
For some playwrights, alienation is merely a pose or a way to gripe without paying your dues as an artist. For Steppling and his marginalized loners, drifters and dreamers, the alienation runs so deep that it becomes the unspoken premise behind every failed transaction and disaffected decision they make.
In “Dog Mouth,” playing through Feb. 17 at Evidence Room in Los Angeles, Steppling has found a setting and story equal to his outlook. Jason Adams’ set is a sweeping desert vista bisected diagonally by a spike of railroad track stretching from the audience into the barren distance. Karl Lundeberg’s haunting sound design is filled with echoes of rattling freight cars, steaming locomotives, plaintive train whistles and the rhythmic clickity-clack of endless journeys to the interior of nowhere. We are in that special space where the alienated spirit flourishes like a cactus baking in the noonday sun.
The play centers on Dog Mouth (Stephen Davies), a rail-riding hobo with a pitiless disposition. Davies imbues the character with the look of a man who has swallowed dynamite and is about to spit out an explosion. The intensity of his performance helps a play that has very little plot. Dog Mouth appears to be the leader of a loose-knit group of criminal hoboes, though what their crimes are remains a mystery — one among many. We get only the sketchiest details about Dog Mouth’s past and what has brought him, at age 55, to his present circumstances, but the fact that he and another hobo, Becker (James Storm), are Vietnam vets offers a clue.
There’s also an outcast young woman, Nyah (Nia Gwynne), who is carrying Dog Mouth’s baby and appears to love him, though he shows little interest in her or the baby.
The play’s fourth character is Weeks, a black dog breeder, well-played by Hugh Dane. The one — and only — matter about which Dog Mouth appears to care is breeding fighting dogs, an activity he once engaged in with some success and intends to do again.
Jay Reiner, Hollywood Reporter
Review: Joe and Betty Playwright Murray Mednick opens a psychic vein in his savagely autobiographical “Joe and Betty” at 2100 Square Feet. Set in New York’s Catskill Mountains in 1951, the play is a loosely fictionalized account of Mednick’s own impoverished boyhood, a Borscht Belt “Lower Depths” with a darkly comic undertone. Rand Ryan’s gelid lighting design includes a single strip of white light that bisects Jeffrey Atherton’s bleak set, a wry visual metaphor for the emotional polarization of the characters. Joe and Betty’s six children, at no time seen or heard, are the collateral damage in their parents’ ongoing marital war. Although he never appears on stage, the chief victim of his parents’ barrage is Emile, Mednick’s pre-adolescent self, a silent and helpless spectator in his own family tragedy.
As a father, Joe (John Diehl) is neglectful, a feckless blue-collar movie projectionist whose unvarying smirk covers his own massive inadequacies. But it is the criminally ineffectual Betty (Annabelle Gurwitch) who most excites our sympathy and our loathing. A Munch painting come to life, Gurwitch shines and sickens in her uncompromising portrayal of a mother so lost in her own frantic negativism that she unwittingly tortures those she loves. The play’s snarling, staccato interchanges carry little point and less possibility of compromise, a sort of philosophical dialectic barked by junkyard dogs. In a staging that has the compressed energy of a coiled spring, director Diane Robinson stylizes the proceedings to an almost surreal degree. Characters are purposely affectless, speaking but seldom connecting in any material or human way. Yet the chief ironyand triumphof the play is the visceral connection made by the once-voiceless Emile/Mednick, who uses the wrenching dysfunction of “Joe and Betty” to so eloquently expiate his own painful past.
F. Kathleen Foley, LA Times