Monday, June 24, 2013

June 22, 2013: 24 Hour Plays LA Benefiting Urban Arts Partnership (sponsored by Monte Blanc)

Date: June 22, 2013
Event: 24 Hour Plays LA
Location:  Los Angeles, CA
Cost:  Ticket prices ranged from $100 - $200
Summary: And with this, I become a bi-coastal supporter of 24 Hour Plays.  :D

If you know me, you know that The 24 Hour Plays benefiting Urban Arts Partnership (sponsored by Monte Blanc) is one of my favorite favorite favorite things to do in New York.  Favorite!  I have attended the 24 Hour Plays six times in New York, but this is the first time I've gone to the LA version of it.  It just so happened I had to be in California for work the following week so I wasn't about to miss the opportunity to come down to LA a couple of days early to experience this!  And I wasn't disappointed.

Now, why do I love it so much?  Well, why do any of us love anything so much?  It's hard to pinpoint.  But I can say that it was the very first Broadway show I ever saw after I moved to New York, so it holds that special place in my heart for that reason.  Second, I feel very very strongly about the organization that benefits from the show -- Urban Arts Partnership ( or @UrbanArtsNYC on twitter) -- which brings arts education to under-served students in New York (or LA).  And, third, you seriously just never know what you're going to get.  And that makes it

For those that have never heard of 24 Hour Plays, here's what it is:  in short, it's a show in which six 10-minute plays are written, produced, and performed all in the span of 24 hours.  The writers, directors, and actors meet for the first time at 10:00 pm the night before, then the writers write the plays all night, then the actors come back and rehearse with the directors all day, then they do lighting and such, and at 8:00 pm it's curtains up, and the performances end at approximately 10:00 pm, 24 hours after their very creation began.

As I said above, as an audience member, you honestly have no idea what to expect.  Will they be comedies?  Dramas?  Who will play what roll?  Will I laugh?  Will I cry?  Will the play make any sense at all? (admittedly, the answer to that last question is frequently 'no', but again, that's part of the fun.)  And also, it's clear every year, and this year was no different, that the actors love what they're doing, they believe in what they're doing, and that translates on the stage.  The audience can feel it, and we're brought along on the ride with them, we're part of this creative process, and it' I said, it's just plain fun.  (if you’re on twitter, search on the #24HRLA hashtag to see some of the shenanigans)

As for the actors, kudos to them.  They give of their time to this and their name (and for some, their dignity, heh) and they do it for an amazing cause, one I feel strongly about as I said.  I'm an engineer by training, a scientist by nature.  I’m all about numbers and the laws of physics.  But I know that I would not be a complete person, professionally or personally, without the arts (if you've read previous entries in this blog, I think you can see I do love artsy stuff), and I believe we need to continue arts education in our classrooms -- it's not just a 'nice to have', it's a requirement.  And that's what Urban Arts Partnership also believes and that's what they do -- bring arts back to the class rooms, both for the sake of arts but also incorporating it into the core curriculum.  Helping kids stay interested, helping them learn.  And more of them are graduating because of it.  As I said, it’s not just nice to have, it’s making a real impact on kids’ lives.

And so that's what these actors lending their time to this cause does.  And I'm not just speaking theoretically:  at this year's performance, the person on my left was there specifically to see Sasha Alexander perform and the person on my right was there because she wanted to see Sklar Astin.  And I’m sure these two cases were not unique.  All of these actors, their names, their presence was putting butts in the seats and bringing money to UAP.  So, as I said, kudos and props to the actors.  Respect.

Continue reading below about the individual plays from this year.

Okay, so let's talk more about this year's plays in LA.  Well, they were so... so LA.  I won't harp on it or linger on the differences, though, because different doesn't mean bad, not at all, it just means different.  (For one, I had to drive (*gasp*) to the theater and figure out parking (*gasp*)  Yes, I'm a NYer -- subways are my preferred mode of transport ;) )

There aren't any pictures except for a couple of the playbill -- no pictures allowed in the theater!  But let me see if I can give you a flavor of each play below so if your favorite actor/actress was in it you can have an idea what they were up to.

But first, here was the front of the playbill (I love the Ian McKellan quote, LOL)
24 Hour Plays Playbill

Also, the one-line-bios (these are also a 24 Hour Play tradition and I adore reading through them (click on them to see a larger version) -- lol especially at Michael Ealy, Andy Finkman, Ashley Fink, Alia Shawkat, Wilmer Valderrama.

And the Program (again, you can click on the image to see a larger version):
24 Hour Plays LA Program

So, without further ado...

Bear Witness
by Jenny Bicks
directed by Peter Ellenstein
staring Seth Green, Lucy Punch, Tracie Thoms, Cadesha Oliver*, Romy Rosemont
*NOTE:  Cadesha Oliver was a student from a school that benefits from UAP; this was her first performance, yay!

This play was about marriage, essentially.  Lucy Punch played a soon-to-be bride who runs into Seth Green as she tries to steal a bear from Build-A-Bear as part of a bridesmaids scavenger hunt.  They eventually kiss and there are feels.  However, she's about to get married, of course, and we learn he's already married.  It meandered a bit, with the eventual appearance of Lucy Punch's mom (Romy Rosemont) giving a history of the family (they came over from the Mayflower and they had to inbreed a lot because there was basically only one man left on the ship by the time it docked and that made the family a little crazy).  In the end, she's attracted to him and he to her, and with that admission it fades to black.

Don't get me wrong, it had its moments.  For instance, it was probably visually/costuming perhaps the most fun (or tied for the most fun).  Seth Green in a onesie (think adult-sized one-piece footie pajamas and remember what I said about dignity), Tracie Thoms in...just about everything all at once.  And I loved Seth Greens' line, "It was the worst pain I've felt and that's a lot coming from a guy in a onesie."  Heh.  But the absolute highlight of this play for me was Lucy Punch, who was just awesome.  Her physical comedy in her attempts to steal/hide the bear had me rolling.  And her delivery of lines like, 'Oh sure, guys who are great kissers with crappy paychecks' were hysterical.  And her accent was fantastic, of course. 

For Sale: Breast Pump, Never Used
by Ben Karlin
directed by Ryan Case
staring John Cho, Alia Shawkat, John Hawkes, Ashley Fink

The basic storyline here was... well it was twofold.  First, Alia Shawkat was detained because the TSA didn't believe the breast pump she was trying to carry on board an airplane was actually a breast pump, and back at home her husband is having an affair with the nanny and they want to run off and play ukelele/strange swinging instrument in subways (or Subways if the city didn't have subways, they'd be happy with either).  And no, I'm not making this up, lol.  In this play, the interrogation scenes stole the play.  Goodness John Cho's, "You have enough power here to light up Chicago!" in reference to the breast pump, and Alia Shawkat's bewildered responses that it was JUST A BREAST PUMP were just plain hilarious. 

Now, I wish I could ask the writer about the title.  It's clearly a play on the legend of Earnest Hemmingway's 'shortest story ever told' (which is, by the way 'For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn.')  And I was trying to figure out if there was any connection... or perhaps it was just a funny play off that story and there wasn't anything deeper.  Either way, I liked the title, too.

The Carrot
by Rachel Axler
directed by Fred Savage
staring Melanie Griffith (I know, right?!?), Hannah Simone, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jason Biggs, Emmanuel De Los Santos*
*NOTE:  Emmanuel De Los Santos was a student from a school that benefits from UAP; this was her first performance, yay!  (and lol, his future IMBD page is going to list is first ever roll as “The Carrot”)

I wish I could tell you what this play was about.  But Jason Biggs' character gave the best summary: "The Carrot punches people in the face."  Yep.  A man-sized carrot with a cape ran across the stage and punched people in the face (ostensibly to knock some sense into them).  And while this play was the strangest of the bunch, I have to say some of the very best lines of the night were in this play.  I was cracking up at Melanie Griffith looking at her white wedding dress going, "I don't think this is the dress that I bought.  I think the one I bought was purple.  And I think it was pants."  I have no idea why that cracked me up but I'm still laughing about it as I type this.  Also, Hannah Simone saying that she "had always dreamed of marrying a guy that handed out flyers on the bus" had me cracking up.  It was just so perfectly strange and unexpected.  There was a lot of physicality in this play, too, as The Carrot punched everyone.  I swear, Jason Biggs threw himself around that stage like no body's business.  I think I dislocated a knee and got a concussion just from watching him.  Just fantastic!

Something about Lily
by Gabrielle Allan & Jennifer Crittenden
directed by Julie Ann Robinson
staring Anna Camp, Mary Quick, Wilmer Valderrama, Gillian Jacobs, Skylar Astin, LaQuan Riley

The basic plot was that Wilmer Valderrama cheated on Anna Camp the night before their wedding (and we learn later it was with her sister).  They have a confrontation about it in a liquor store which is robbed -- by an ex-boyfriend of Anna Camp (aka Lily).  The fiancé (Wilmer Valderrama)and ex-boyfriend (Skylar Astin) duke it out for her.  But the 'duking it out for her' was so fraking funny.  The fiancé tries to win her over by breaking out what she called his "Latin Denzel Washington" and when he started quoting Training Day she couldn’t resist and they literally broke into this spontaneous salsa dance.  I know it sounds bizarre but OMG the audience was rolling, it was just hysterical.  And then when the ex tried to woo her back he broke into their salsa dance by breaking into Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" which wooed her over to him.  Until the police arrived (it was a robbery after all).  And through all this chaos I kept looking at the bartender/liquor store clerk and she just had this 'I cannot even believe this sh*t' the whole time which just cracked me up even more.

But, yeah, the Latin Denzel Washington Training Day Spontaneous Salsa Dance is going to stick with me for a while.  So hilarious.
by Will McCormack
directed by Leigh Kilton-Smith
staring Ian Harding, Molly Sims, Jamie Chung, David Krumholtz

This was very interesting.  It had the least amount of comedy and the most food for thought.  It basically painted a dystopian future where couples were essentially matched purely by a scientific test (‘You will no longer feel sadness or desire or longing or loneliness.  In short, you will be happy.’), and in a world where opera and baseball was no more because people no longer wished to interact with each other but only wished to watch things on TV in the privacy of their own homes and interact only with their iPhones or similar devices.  And the story was about these two people (Jamie Chung and David Krumholtz) who were matched by the test and were trying to come to terms with the fact that they’d be spending the rest of their lives together...but also actually connecting, actually listening to each other.

The dystopia was portrayed by a couple who owned and who kept saying they were happy but clearly had no connection and otherwise was portrayed entirely through dialog between the two people looking for a connection with each other, and overall I found it fascinating. 

There were a number of moments that were humorous, certainly, but overall it was more thought-provoking (which isn't easy to do in just a 10 minute play).  And the perfect crowning moment was when the dystopian couple, after eating breakfast, the wife got up and leaned in to give her husband what everyone would have expected to be a goodbye kiss, but instead of kissing him she extended her arm (which was holding her iPhone) and they both smiled for a selfie.  Perfect.  Perfect perfect.

Air and Space
by Bill Wrubel
directed by Andy Finkman
staring Rosie Perez, Jack McBrayer, Michael Ealy, Samantha Barks, Sasha Alexander

(Author’s note:  This play was my fav…though I might be a little bias since I do love Sasha Alexander and Kenneth, er, I mean Jack McBrayer.  But I’m allowed to be a little biased, right?)

This story was also about finding happiness and connection, as well, but it went about it in a COMPLETELY different way.  Let me start by saying that if they gave out a Tony for Puerto Rican Greek Goddess, Rosie Perez would be the clear winner.  NAAAAILED IT!  The program says she was 'Aretha'... I think that was supposed to be Athena?  Either way, she ranted and raved about finding your happiness and not going down the path of Gwyneth Paltrow and her lack of gluten!  GLUTEN!!

Yeah, I have no idea but it cracked me up every time.

Anyway, she was berating people for not finding happiness, introducing us to two pair of people as an example:  The first pair was two friends/brothers, one an astronaut (Jack McBrayer) who was full of himself and supposedly super smart, though he couldn't turn a clever phrase to save his life and one a pilot (Michael Ealy) who flew puddle jumpers from Nantucket to Boston and hated the fact that his astronaut friend thought he was so verbally clever even though he wasn't.  (as an aside, an extra shout out to Jack McBrayer who was just completely fantastic in his roll.)

The second pair was a woman who broke into song all the time (Samantha Barks who was recently in Les Mis) -- her song of choice was generally Ground Control To Major Tom and her friend (Sasha Alexander) who loved word play and turning a phrase and couldn't STAND her friend's voice.  At one point, Sasha Alexander finally yells at Samantha Barks, BEGGING her friend to stop singing because she had such a terrible voice (which is particularly hilariously ironic not just because Samantha Barks has, you know, the OPPOSITE of a terrible voice, but also because Sasha Alexander frequently admits how poorly she herself sings (see her one-line bio in this year’s program)).

Anyway, Perez breaks back in and rants about Paltrow and gluten.  GLUTEN!  again.  Then we return to our story.

As you might imagine, Ground-Control-To-Major-Tom singing woman and self-absorbed-astronaut make a connection and puddle jumper pilot and clever-word-play woman make a connection.  Now, both of the physical interactions between the two new couples was…odd…to say the least, sort of awkwardly miming at each other but not touching; but it was perfectly in line with the general tenor of the whole play and just plain funny to watch.

The funniest moment, I mean, maybe the funniest of the entire night was when Samantha Barks starts breaking into song again and Michael Ealy literally screams in horror and pain at her voice, getting right up in her face and just shrieking and twitching.  I think the entire audience was in absolute stitches and I have NO IDEA how the cast managed to keep a straight face through that, but they did.

The play ended with Samantha Barks singing "Ground Control to Major Tom" and the astronaut responding "I'm Fred" (LOL) and they go off together and Michael Ealy wanting to take Sasha Alexander to a Botanical Garden to which she responded, "More like a Botanical Gar-I'm IN."

Rosie Perez returns to say what a good thing this all is and GLUTEN!  Or, you know, something like that.  Heh


In the end, not everything made sense, no, but it was ALL so very entertaining and so very fun, frequently funny, occasionally a little deep.  And the casts were so game for anything and threw everything they had into it.

And I think participants and audience alike had a good evening.  I know I certainly did.  And I encourage everyone to try to get tickets to next year's event -- you will not regret it.

Now, go look up Urban Arts Partnership and give them some money.  ;)

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