Monday, September 15, 2014

Race Relations and Identity Tackled In 'Bulrusher'

By Darlene Donloe

Who are you really?

Most people take for granted the knowledge or who they are and where they come from. But for some, knowing who they are, is a painful mystery – that when unraveled could be more raw than the unknown.

Take Eisa Davis’ Bulrusher, currently enjoying its Los Angeles premiere at the Skylight Theatre.  This drama, laced with comedic moments, is a hefty look inside the world of an 18-year-old multiracial orphan girl named Bulrusher (Bianca Lemaire), who is growing up in a predominantly white California town with no knowledge of where she comes from.

Yes, she’s heard stories of being abandoned by her mother. She’s heard stories of how her mother set her adrift in the ocean. She heard stories about how a man named Logger (Joshua Wolf Coleman) found her, saved her and gave her to a quiet, lonely school teacher named Schoolch (Warren Davis), who was willing to raise her. She’s heard the stories, but none of them fulfill her primal, human need to know who she is and where she comes from.

Bulrusher’s world changes forever when a black girl named Vera (Chauntae Pink), from Alabama suddenly appears with a secret of her own and conjures feelings within Bulrusher that she’s never known.

(l-r) Warren Davis, Heidi James, Joshua Wolf Coleman, 
(seated) Patrick Cragin, Bianca Lemaire and Chauntae Pink

But who is Bulrusher? The story of her self-discovery is told in the poetic language of Boontling and set in a rural town along the Navarro River. In tune with her inner being, Bulrusher, as a clairvoyant, has the power to see the future through water that someone has touched. The power and her vague background have made her someone of an outcast in the city and given her a reputation of being a witch. None of that bothers Bulrusher who is surprisingly self-assured even though she doesn’t have a clue about her ancestry.

Boontling is a regional jargon from Northern California.  The language adds flavor to the show.  For instance, sex is referred to as ‘heel scratchin,’ while dancing is referred to as ‘hobbin.’  Of course, unless you’re familiar with the terms beforehand, it can leave the audience clueless.

Bulrusher, which means ‘foundling or illegitimate child’ in Boontling, is a play about identity laced with the reality of race relations.  It’s the west vs. the south, black vs. white, men vs. women and the plight of Native Americans.  It’s even about sexuality with possible incest thrown in. It’s all encompassing and delivered in a way that is palatable, but too drawn out.

Eisa Davis has crafted an emotional and gut-wrenching play, which was a 2007 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Davis, who was born in Berkeley, Calif., is an actress and singer as well as a playwright. She is also a niece of activist Angela Davis. Character driven, the play, directed by Nataki Garrett doesn’t have any bells and whistles – it draws purely on the words and the performances, which are impressive all around.

Garrett uses every inch of Hana Sooyeon Kim’s moveable set.  The characters flow in and out of scenes with ease – all the while moving pieces to set up the next scene change. It works. The fluidity of the direction enhances the watery elements presented throughout the production. 

Derrick McDaniel’s lighting is like an additional character. It not only sets the mood, it engulfs the stage taking to audience on a journey into the tiny town. Kudos to David B. Marling on his exceptional sound design.

All of the elements come together to make Bulrusher, which comes in at more than two hours, a lovely, but long evening of entertainment.

(l-r) Chauntae Pink, Heidi James and Bianca Lemaire 

 Bulrusher, written by Eisa Davis and directed by Nataki Garrett, stars Bianca Lemaire, Chauntae Pink, Joshua Wolf Coleman, Heidi James, Patrick Cragin and Warren Davis. 

*Actor Bert Emmett played Schoolch during the Sunday, Sept. 14 matinee.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Bulrusher gets an E (excellent).

Bulrusher, Skylight Theatre Complex, 1816 ½ North Vermont, L.A.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 3 p.m. Sun. through Sept. 28; $30; 213 761-7061 or

Cicely Tyson Honored At First Ladies High Tea

(l-r) Founder Lisa Collins of First Ladies High Tea, First Lady Isabella Drake (Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church), Tony and Emmy-winning actress Cicley Tyson, First Lady Myesha Chaney (Antioch Church of Long Beach), who also stars in VH1’s Preachers of L.A. and First Lady Debra Williams (McCoy Memorial Baptist Church).

  (l-r) Lisa Collins and Dr. Bobby Jones Jr. (Bobby Jones Gospel)

Photos by: Scott Mitchell

L.A. Focus’ First Ladies High Tea held Sat., Sept. 13, 2014 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills was a tremendous success. Over 1,000 attendees were blessed to witness a dynamic acceptance speech from iconic actress Cicely Tyson after receving the Legacy Award

This year’s event was co-hosted by Ambassador of Gospel Dr. Bobby Jones, Jr; BET's "Bobby Jones Gospel" and Dr. Beverly “Bam” Crawford, pastor of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International Church.

The event honored women and First Ladies who have served the communities well, through their activism and charitable contributions. The First Lady Honorees include: Myesha Chaney; Antioch Church of Long Beach, Isabelle Drake, Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church and Debra Williams; McCoy Memorial Baptist Church.
Celebrities that were honored included actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (best known for her role in Belle), who received the Spirit Award, actress Alley Mills, The Bold and the Beautiful, received the Shining Star Award and music executive Vicki Mack Lataillade, who received the Focus Award. Grammy winning recording artist Smokie Norful and Grammy-nominated artist, Tata Vega, were the featured performers.
About First Ladies High Tea
This afternoon tea is a red carpet affair for the Who’s Who of women in the church and black community, featuring celebrity guests, community leaders and honorees.  In the decade since its inception, the tea has served to inspire women, both young and old, to join forces and create a movement of service towards each other, the communities in which they live and to God.  Past honorees include former California First Lady Maria Shriver, former LA County Supervisor Yvonne Burke, renown vocalist Nancy Wilson, gospel recording duo Mary Mary, TV One founder Cathy Hughes, actor/activist Hill Harper and The Honorable Kamala Harris, Attorney General of California, to name a few.

'Marjorie Prime' Opens At Mark Taper Sept. 21

Lois Smith

The world premiere of Jordan Harrison’s “Marjorie Prime” opens at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum on Sunday, September 21, 2014, at 7 p.m.  Directed by Obie Award-winner Les Waters, the profound and engaging new play continues through October 19, 2014. 

The cast of “Marjorie Prime” features acclaimed actors Lois Smith (Tony Award nominated for “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Buried Child”), and, in alphabetical order,  Lisa Emery (who has appeared on Broadway in “Relatively Speaking,” “The Smell of the Kill” and “The Women,” among others), Jeff Ward (who recently made his Broadway debut with “Orphans”) and Frank Wood (Tony Award winner for “Sideman”; recently appeared at the Taper in “Clybourne Park”).

Hudlin To Produce Governors Awards for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Reginald  Hudlin
LOS ANGELES, CA — Reginald Hudlin will produce the 6th Annual Governors Awards for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced today.  The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award will be presented to Harry Belafonte, and Honorary Awards will be presented to Jean-Claude Carrière, Hayao Miyazaki and Maureen O’Hara, on Saturday, November 8, at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center®.

“With Reggie’s experience, unique vision and immense creativity, the evening celebrating those who have given so much to our industry is certain to be a memorable one,” said Boone Isaacs.

"I’m honored to be working with the Academy again,” said Hudlin.  “The collective impact of this year’s Governors Awards recipients on the evolution of cinema is immeasurable.  I’m a fan of all four of these legends, so producing a celebration of Ms. O’Hara’s performances, Mr. Carrière’s storytelling, Mr. Belafonte’s dedication and Mr. Miyazaki’s magic is a pleasure."

A writer, director, producer and pioneering entertainment executive, Hudlin received a Best Picture Oscar® nomination as a producer of “Django Unchained.”  His feature directing credits include “The Great White Hype,” “Boomerang,” and “House Party,” which he also wrote; he also has directed episodes of such popular television series as “Psych,” “Modern Family,” “The Office” and “The Bernie Mac Show.”  Hudlin recently produced “The Academy Celebrates the Black Movie Soundtrack” concert at the Hollywood Bowl and has executive produced the NAACP Image Awards show for the past two years.  He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild, and serves on the executive board of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.

# # #

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the world’s preeminent movie-related organization, with a membership of more than 6,000 of the most accomplished men and women working in cinema. In addition to the annual Academy Awards—in which the members vote to select the nominees and winners — the Academy presents a diverse year-round slate of public programs, exhibitions and events; acts as a neutral advocate in the advancement of motion picture technology; and, through its Margaret Herrick Library and Academy Film Archive, collects, preserves, restores and provides access to movies and items related to their history. Through these and other activities the Academy serves students, historians, the entertainment industry and people everywhere who love movies.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

'The Identical' Is Not 'Just An Elvis Movie'

In what has been a dismal season at the box office for the movie industry, audiences have failed to turn out for dozens of top titles – including one of the highest quality faith films to be made in years.
Many Christian ticket buyers, it seems, mistakenly concluded “THE IDENTICAL” – which stars big Hollywood names like Ashley Judd, Seth Green, and Ray Liotta and includes 23 original songs created by Motown music legends – was “just an Elvis movie” and didn’t give the production the same boost at the box office they gave other faith films like “Son of God” and “God’s Not Dead.”
Without support from Christian moviegoers and saddled with negative reviews from secular critics, “THE IDENTICAL" – despite appearing in nearly 2,000 theaters nationwide – flopped at the box office.
The filmmakers are offering audiences an unprecedented challenge – and the first 15 minutes of the movie free on their website – to prove secular critics of "THE IDENTICAL" wrong.
“You decide!” announces a bold proclamation on “The Identical” website. “Mainstream film critics did not care for ‘The Identical,’ while Christian reviewers and audiences loved the movie. We are putting the first fifteen minutes online to let you decide for yourself.
“Who will you side with,” the filmmakers ask, “audiences or film critics?”
Viewers are then invited to vote on whether fans or critics got it right.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Actor Michael Che Set To Make History On SNL

Michael Che

In early 2013, actor Michael Che was hired as a guest writer for five episodes on Saturday Night Live.  Last September he was brought back as one of the show’s guest writers.

It was recently announced that Che will make history this season as the first African American anchor of the show’s news segment, Weekend Update.  Che will replace Cecily Strong who, reportedly, wants to devote her time to sketches.

Che, 31, is a native New Yorker who was hired as a guest writer for “SNL” in spring 2013, for only five episodes, then last September, brought back as regular writer. He was only recently hired as a correspondent on “The Daily Show.”

Che, who was recently hired as a correspondent on The Daily Show, has writing credits on two dozen “SNL” episodes.  He will share the “Update” desk this season with current co-anchor Colin Jost.

Last season, the show hired actress Sasheer Zamata after the show received backlash for its lack of diversity

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cast Set For Ahmanson's 'The Trip To Bountiful'


The full casting has been announced for the Center Theatre Group engagement of the Tony-nominated Broadway revival of Horton Foote’s American masterpiece “The Trip to Bountiful,” which begins performances at the Ahmanson Theatre on Wednesday, September 17, and continues through November 2, 2014. The opening is September 26.
The previously-announced cast members Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Blair Underwood will be joined by Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Devon Abner, Wade Dooley, Arthur French, Pat Bowie, Russell Edge, Dalila Ali Rajah, Keiana Richàrd, Duane Shepard, Sr. and Desean Kevin Terry.
Directed by Michael Wilson, “The Trip to Bountiful” features scenic design by Jeff Cowie, costume design by Van Broughton Ramsey, lighting design by Rui Rita as well as original music and sound design by John Gromada, hair design by Paul Huntley, make-up design by Angelina Avallone, casting by Caparelliotis Casting and Los Angeles casting by Mark B. Simon, CSA.  The production stage manager is Robert Bennett, the associate director is David Alpert and the CTG associate artistic director is Neel Keller.