First, there was the synthesizer, threatening pit musicians' jobs. Now comes a sound-mimicking machine capable of supplanting whole rosters of actors.
She is Gigi Bermingham, able to reproduce all manner of regional accents, as well as impersonate singers ranging from Julie Andrews to Cher. And, get this: Once she has introduced several such characters, she can deftly shift from voice to voice, so that they talk to one another.
To demonstrate these talents, Bermingham has written an amusing character study called "Non-Vital Organs," based on a story by her and Diana Hamann. She performs it solo in a City Stage presentation at the Hudson Guild Theatre in Hollywood. Well, almost solo. Fellow actor D.K. Pierce also provides vocal effects (yapping dog, whimpering baby, etc.) from just offstage.
Bermingham's central creation is the talkative, animated Darlene Michaels, whose colorful past is revealed through interactions with other characters. These include Sarah Pritchard, a British expatriate and wealthy singing coach to the stars, who is Darlene's employer and surrogate mother; Genevieve Lapompette, Sarah's French maid; and Brandi Smolenski, a flirtatious expectant mother who speaks with a New Jersey whine.
Among the bombshells: The aged, tart-tongued Sarah explains that her first glimpse of Darlene--at the time a prostitute and inhalant addict--came as the younger woman was looking up from an open can of paint. "There was a white circle on her face, like a fallen halo," Sarah recalls, in one of many sharply written lines.
The characters have self-revelatory moments, too, as when the put-upon French maid--who is forever harried by Sarah's attacking Shih Tzu--is given a moment's reprieve to sing a deeply felt rendition of "La Vie en Rose," delivered in a dead-on Edith Piaf vibrato, while Kathi O'Donohue's lights turn the scene appropriately rose-colored.
The story isn't terribly weighty, but it delivers some nice thoughts about nurturing instincts and the need for connection. Pierce's contributions, along with atmospheric effects by sound designer Bob Blackburn, are deftly woven together with Bermingham's multiple personalities, under Richard Kuhlman's direction. Christopher Michaels' set design, with its well-stocked knickknack shelves, handily facilitates the story's multiple settings.
Daryl H. Miller
"Non-Vital Organs," Hudson Guild Theatre, 6543 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 20. $15. (323) 856-4200. Running time: 2 hours.
A Thought-Provoking 'Talented Tenth'
A personal midlife crisis parallels a cultural one in Richard Wesley's "The Talented Tenth," as a successful black businessman begins to question his aspirations in much the way that the larger African American community has been reevaluating its own goals after the civil rights era.
Wesley gives theatergoers a lot to think about--so much, in fact, that one begins to worry that he's trying to compress a whole social history course into one sitting. But this material comes alive when acted well, as it was in a 1997 production in Hollywood that featured Robert Guillaume.
It pulses once again in a production at 4305 Village Theatre in Leimert Park, directed by Claudette Roche, who was executive producer of the '97 show, as well as an actor in it. The theater, open for a year now, is advancing into the arena of Actors' Equity Assn. 99-seat productions with this show.
The years advance from the 1960s to 1990 as Bernard (Basil Wallace) transitions from a life of political activism at Howard University to an increasingly comfortable existence as an executive with a small chain of radio stations. Then, out of the blue, a larger chain comes along to swallow his company, just as he also nears a crisis in his marriage to Pam (Cynda Williams-Plummer).
Bernard's response to these challenges isn't always constructive. Indeed, he sometimes seems determined to lay waste to everything around him, including his affair with the younger Tanya (Karen Malina White) and his long-standing friendships with fellow Howard grads Ron (M. Darnell Suttles), Marvin (Andre Mayers) and Rowena (Shelley Robertson).
Time shifts aren't always clear in Roche's staging, but she does a fine job of re-creating real life. Time and again, an actor's response to a situation is so true that the audience laughs with recognition.
In the end, the script resolves Bernard's crises before convincing us he's really learned anything from them. But Wesley's message comes through loud and clear: Keep building on success, rather than settling for what has been accomplished already.
"The Talented Tenth," 4305 Village Theatre, 4305 Degnan Blvd., L.A. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Ends May 12. $25. (323) 655-TKTS. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.
'Joleta' Reveals a Family's Secrets
Marrying plot intricacies worthy of Jane Austen and the emotional expressiveness of contemporary African American voices, Harriet A. Dickey's "Joleta" at the Stella Adler Theatre proves a gripping, tightly scripted generational saga about a family uncovering dark secrets in its painful history.
As in previous stagings, this revival of the Towne Street Theatre's popular production sports different casts on alternating weekends (most of the actors are veterans of the show). Clear, insightful direction by Nancy Cheryll Davis-Bellamy emphasizes stereotype-free characters, no matter which cast you end up seeing. In addition to its fine ensemble performances, Dickey's play spins a suspenseful yarn.
Sparks fly when a present-day reunion brings four sisters back to their parents' uneasy household, where their gravely ill mother (Michelle Davison) quietly agonizes over her missed opportunities. A bad decision in her youth trapped her in a loveless marriage to an egotistic blowhard (Lou Beatty Jr.). His less glamorous brother (Vincent Isaac), who truly loved her, ended up in prison for murder.
The daughters' long-simmering suspicions about their paternity come to a boil with the homecoming of their paroled uncle. Smoothly crafted flashbacks re-create their mother's tortured confession, in which the fates of the younger incarnations of this triangle (Dalila Brown-Geiger, Trevor Gordon and William L. Johnson) are shaped by the wiles of the uncle's conniving ex-wife, Joleta (Lira Angel).
In the ensuing moral quagmire of fidelity, skin color, work ethics, and passion, pent-up skeletons practically cascade from the closet, but the production's focus on believable, emotionally honest performances keeps melodrama at bay.
"Joleta," Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends May 5. $23. (213) 624-4796. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.