La Jolla Playhouse Opens 2022-2023 Season with Lempicka

A Wonderful and Melodic Piece Inspired by the Complex Artist Tamara de Lempicka   

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Eden Espinosa as “Tamara de Lempicka” with cast members (l-r) Devin L. Roberts, Joey Taranto and Morgan Nicholas Scott in La Jolla Playhouse’s
production of LEMPICKA; photo by Matthew Murphy.
It is not easy to create a theatrical piece about a non-fictional character. I believe it is a nice challenge to take upon and use it to tell that person's story and fill people in on something they would not know of otherwise. Or -sort of- not know otherwise. Lempicka, La Jolla Playhouse's season opener did a pretty good job in my eyes telling the story of art deco painter Tamara de Lempicka. A Polish woman living in St. Petersburg married Tadeusz Łempicki, a prominent lawyer who got arrested during the Russian revolution. Lempicka negotiated his release by -sadly- granting favors to the Swedish consul. I was aware of Tamara Lempicka and her round shapes, big-scale type paintings along with the women she painted and how celebrities like Madonna, Jack Nicholson, and Barbra Streisand were fascinated with her paintings, but that was it. That is the wonder of theatre and storytelling and in the Playhouse's case, breaking into song. Eden Espinosa plays the role of Tamara de Lempicka and gosh darn it! the characterization is on point. Anita Yavich's 1920's style costume design is beautiful and truly adds to the piece also taking inspiration from some of Lempicka's paintings to dress the characters like the painter's daughter Kizette (Jordan Tyson) who in one of the scenes wore a light gray dress with white stockings and black shoes like the painting titled Kizette au Balcon . I absolutely love catching details like that. It makes you appreciate the artist's work even more. Riccardo Hernandez's scenic design includes a moving circular platform that the actors hop on and off of, while singing, acting, and dancing, gifting the audience with various very aesthetic frames along with Bradley King's lighting design. At times Peter Nigrini's projection designs with flashes of Lempicka's paintings including the Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti, hence the green of the artwork and the emerald bracelet referenced in the musical as well as in the song Stay sung beautifully by Amber Iman.

Lempicka is a complex piece with many moving parts that take their space and their time to breathe and, that is one of its qualities guided by Rachel Chavkin's tender but mighty direction. I mean, The Great Comet and Hadestown? Tony Award winner, hello? This woman is magic as is her directing style dashed with a tad of magic realism. 

Another quality of the piece is a different type of blooming for Eden Espinosa. I saw a strong and assertive performer focused but having fun too and it was such a joy. The piece is complex because the story of the artist is complex. A woman artist that ran her own studio, painted nude women, and discovered her attraction to women, all during the 1920s?? Tough. Again, taking its time to breathe, the story guides the audience through the couple's exit from St. Patesburg and voyage to Paris, how Tamara loved to paint, found a studio, and a teacher (George Abud as Marinetti)  to continue to grow and find how to make money through her art and patron friends like the Baron (Victor E. Chan) and Baronness (Jacquelyn Ritz). Ritz and Chan are a great duo with wonderful quality. 

Amber Iman (on stage, center) and Eden Espinosa (far right) with the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s
production of LEMPICKA; photo by Rich Soublet II.

Rafaela (Amber Iman) a prostitute that sings in the local club run by Suzy Solidor (Natalie Joy Johnson) and starts posing for Lempicka's paintings and they end up falling in love. Amber Iman is fantastic as Rafaela. The interpretation, the movement, the singing! with a raspy yet soft voice that perfectly articulated each note. And the rapport with Eden on stage is powerful. There is a scene between Rafaela and Kizette that is fire. Again handled meticulously and with care. At first, you could think that Kizette is a spoiled brat but in reality, what we are seeing is a hurt child that is not grasping what is happening with her parents drifting and her mother getting close to a woman. Just great storytelling.

Iman is scheduled to play Rafaela until July 10. It will be an interesting exercise to see Ximone Rose (Who also understudies the role of Lempicka) step in as Rafaela on July 12 until the end of the run. (If I have the opportunity to see it again I will update you!).

The story also touches upon a clandestine club for Lesbian lovers led by Solidor. A club that gets raided by the cops and of course they beat up the women. Natalie Joy Johnson is hot as Solidor. Sensual and sly.

I have to say, as an absolute and declared fan of The Band's Visit, it was exciting to see George Abud as Marinetti. A tough character that deep down is good but is so full of hurt and disappointment that those are the moving forces that come through. A precise portrayal by Abud that sometimes was not easy to watch and, that is a good thing. Andrew Samonsky as the painter's husband Tadeusz Lempicki is also a character that was hard to watch involving the male ego and selfishness at its best. Yet, I was left wanting more from Samonsky. (I loved him in Benny & Joon at The Globe btw).

Eden Espinosa “Tamara de Lempicka” and George Abud as “Marinetti” in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of LEMPICKA; photo by Matthew Murphy.
The original concept for the story as well as the book and Lyrics are by Carson Kreitzer who I think resolved it very well. The book is also by Matt Gould along with the music that as with every musical that is seeing the light for the first time, needs some work but there are songs that are almost perfect. Each of them tells little snippets of the story accompanied by a very catchy riff with oh's and uh's, sung and spoken word, wind instruments, special effects, echoes, the works! 

Lempicka is an amazing collective effort that shows hard work, talent, and feeling and it has a long way to go. I suggest you be in "the room where it happens" and not waste this wonderful opportunity that will be on stage until July 24. For more info go to LaJollaPlayhouse.org. 

If you still need a push, listen to the songs that have been released on Spotify. 

Other members of the creative team include Justin Stasiw, Sound Designer Remy Kurs, Music Supervisor; Cian McCarthy, Orchestrator; Peter Duchan, Script Consultant; Telsey + Company – Craig Burns CSA and Jacole Kitchen, Casting; and Cody Renard Richard, Stage Manager.

The Old Globe Brings Different Tools to the Box as they Host Limited Engagement of -Freestyle Love Supreme-

An Energized and Creative Show Full of Improvisation, Music, and Amazing Expression. 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

(from left) Kaila Mullady, Jay C. Ellis, Andrew Bancroft, and Morgan Reilly. Photo by Joan Marcus.
I believe that taking risks in this life is critical, especially now and especially in the performing arts after everything that has happened. In taking risks there is an exploration of different models with options. The Old Globe ventured into hosting a limited engagement of Freestyle Love Supreme as part of their season. Not a straight play, not Shakespeare, not musical theatre. Yes, Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of the co-creators along with Anthony Veneziale and Thomas Kail who also directs the show. Yes, Miranda was part of it before Hamilton and even before In the Heights and was as incredible as his name attached to it sounds, the project definitely goes beyond that. A form of entertainment that involves riffing or well, improvising on the spot, and making a whole "number" out of a word or a phrase. Since each individual is different, they bring their own essence and flair into each riff and as a group all coming together, it is magical fire!

Hosted by Andrew Bancroft a.ka Jelly Donut the evening starts out after an energized intro with him explaining the dynamic and asking the audience for specific words to be yelled out onto the stage like "what do you hate?" or how would you describe your day in a phrase. As impressive as it is to just create a whole thing around a word or a phrase on the spot, it is also a matter of preparation and experience because some of the words or even the phrases aren't that great so they have to be even more creative and spin it around in order for it to work and pop and I believe that is one of the main sparkles where the magic of Freestyle Love Supreme lies. Each performance will alternate the talents. On the opening night, the stage was graced with Jay C. Ellis Jellis J who is amazing at spinning things and meanings like for example, someone in the audience yelled out "microsoft" as something they hated. Jellis J ran with that one and as all of us in the audience were expecting something regarding the technology company, well, Ellis went through the anatomy of the male reproductive organ, oh the laughs. 

As one of the members starts improvising the rest either harmonize or do beats and it is coolness in all its splendor. Mark Martin Mandible I believe can replicate practically any sound effect out there which made for amazing intros to each of the numbers. Morgan Reilly Hummingbird not only has the voice of an angel, a heavenly angel, or something not earthly because that woman can sing and harmonize beautifully and she can also carry a beat and improvise amazingly which adds a differentiator for sure in comparison to other comedy or improvisation shows. it is definitely an added value. Dizzy Senze Dizzy, like her bio says is definitely a lyrical assassin, very creative and funny. All these people impressed with their skills and experience. It is wonderful to be in a room and encounter this massive talent in its different expressions and also get to see champions like Kaila Mullady Kaiser Rözé, 2015 and 2018 world beatbox champion. Even though she did not participate in the whole performance like the others, her interventions here and there were mighty.

Freestyle Love Supreme is definitely outside of the usual tools in the box for The Globe and I think that is a wonderful thing and they should do more of it. A show that brings or sorts of wonderful talents and abilities together highlighting forms of expression and how to tell a story "on the spot".

Currently playing until July 10 for ticket prices and performance times please click here

The Old Globe also invites audiences to join Freestyle Love Supreme Academy (FLSA) in a one-of-a-kind public class that introduces the basics of improv, storytelling and beatboxing. This exciting 90-minute workshop is open to all adults (16 and over) and will take place in the beautiful outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre on Monday, June 27 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. In this class, FLSA facilitators will guide participants as they learn the basics of freestyle rap. FLSA’s brilliant and compassionate facilitation team will guide you along the journey at your own speed, from very experienced to the never-rappers. The main focus is having fun, expressing yourself, and supporting others! No experience is necessary. Tickets for the workshop are $25 and are available at www.TheOldGlobe.org/GlobeLearning.


The Old Globe Brings Back Summer Shakespeare Festival After Two Years

Kicking it Off With a Modernized, Diverse, Pop-ified, Plain Great Production of The Taming of the Shrew A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Deborah Ann Woll as Katherine (center) with the cast of The Taming of the Shrew, 2022. Photo by Jim Cox.
Shakespeare is not for everybody. And, in the past six years or so, Shakespeare has been analyzed, pointed at, and questioned more than ever. The Taming of the Shrew is a play that has been in the misogynist or sexist category throughout the years as it entails a father with two daughters looking for suiters. The thing is that the oldest daughter is a tad shrew. Which really is, independent and assertive but...yeah. So, dad will not marry the youngest sister until the eldest is spoken for and all the adventures that happen in between until the deal is closed.

There are various elements to The Globe production that make it fun, fast-paced, and a summer must-see. Here are the top 5:

1) It is directed by a woman Periodt

1.1: Shana Cooper earned national acclaim for her 2018 production of 'Shrew at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Cooper re-arranged the pieces in the story to give it some sassy "umph" and have the main couple of Kate (Deborah Ann Woll) and Petruchio (James Udom) be allies that are strongly attracted to each other rather than fierce competitors. 

2) Deborah Ann Woll and James Udom are fantastic. Udom is a Shakespeare master with many credits under his belt like Macbeth both in theatre and film, The Winter’s Tale, and it definitely shows. Woll is witty, tough, and gracious. Her major TV credits like “True Blood,” “Daredevil,” “The Punisher,” etc make it also fun. It is cool to see a TV personality on a theatre stage, especially doing a Shakespeare production, and have the opportunity to see their different acting abilities. (I can tell you my husband was very excited when he recognized her).

John Tufts as Hortensio and Cassia Thompson as Bianca in
The Taming of the Shrew, 2022. Photo by Jim Cox.

3) Switching it up with the genders in the roles is also fun. One of the main ones is Lucentio's servant Tranio who in this production is played by the engaging and hilarious Felicity Jones Latta. Not the first time The Globe has done this. Their 2018 production of The Tempest, the Duke of Milan Prospero, was the Duchess of Milan Prospera, played majestically by the amazing Kate Burton. 

Jesse J. Perez who acts in the play and is also a Professor and the Program Director of The Old Globe and University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program is brilliantly saucy as Gremio, pumping the character with his very unique style -physical ability with flips included- and I even saw a bit of pachuco in Gremio which I loved. John Tufts is a triple-acting threat in this piece portraying the roles of Hortensio, Biondello, and Merchant while changing wigs and mustache on stage showing speed and skill but also, giving the audience hilarious scenes. As a side note, I would totally buy the suit he wears as Hortensio -no joke- and the fact that Wilson Chin (mentioned below) went with the option of leaving him shirtless with the suit, gives the character even more sass. Orville Mendoza is well known in the musical theatre scene in San Diego with also amazing vocals. It was nice to see him in a Shakespeare play as Grumio and command that stage with great comedy.

4) The Globe is known for its amazing set and costume design and this play is no exception. Ásta Bennie Hostetter's costume design is colorful, and just super stylish making the actors pop and look amazing. Wilson Chin's scenic design of a bright green garden with garden statues also makes the scene pop with great balance and a beautiful aesthetic. 

5) The music. This production includes subtle songs and snippets here and there with amazing vocals perfectly executed by Old Globe/USD Shiley M.F.A. Program second-year student, Brett Cassidy, Maggie Walter's potent soprano voice, and Becca Lustgarten also an M.F.A student. This just is the cherry on top of a round, very well-put-together production. 

The Taming of the Shrew is definitely a must-see this summer and one of the best Shakespeare productions at The Globe that I have seen. Currently playing until July 10 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. For ticket prices and performance times please click here

The cast of The Taming of the Shrew, 2022. Photo by Jim Cox.

COVID-19 Policy: The Old Globe will not require patrons to provide proof of vaccination or to wear masks while attending shows or events in either indoor or outdoor venues. However, they still strongly recommend mask-wearing while at the Globe, and patrons should feel comfortable wearing a mask anywhere on their campus.