Life in Session postcard


Backstage West

This jazzy little group, calling itself The 68 Cent Crew, deserves more attention than it gets, through thanks to families, friends, and word of mouth it fills seats in the small theatre it has spruced up with cranberry hued velvet curtains for its stage and comfortable plush seats for its patrons.  Now in its third year and its third production of its current season, the company has a go at short plays written, directed, and performed by members united in bonds of friendship, youth, for the most part Italian ancestry and Brooklyn/Manhattan provenance.  Bios lists lots of film and TV exposure, but a common love of heart and urge to communicate with live audiences pulls them to the stage.

Contemporary slice-of-life episodes include a take on the dating game, a critic’s comeuppance from an actor delivering pizzas, a crazy criminal caper, and a “welcome home” family dinner that’s an exorcism of sorts.

Happy Birthday, written and directed by Seth Romatelli, presents a clean-cut Jonathon E. Steward as birthday boy recipient of a not altogether welcome speed-dating service.  Jenna Mattison portrays a date prospect from hell – a total turnoff.  But Mattison’s splendor of lavish titian tresses is a sight to see.  Ed Steing plays a twinkly facilitator; Jules Dosik is just right as girl-next-door perfection.  Romatelli’s dialogue ripples like Mattison’s hair.  Romatelli appears in Critical Condition, written and directed by Joel Berti, as an actor delivering a pizza to an apartment shard by a drama critic (Jennifer Christopher), who may take her work a bit too seriously, and a platonic roomie (big guy/happy Buddha, Kurt TenEyck).   The aspiring actor’s reaction opens the critic’s eyes to her own hurts.

Honor Among Thieves, written and directed by Lizzie Press, is a madcap romp with Danny Cistone, Ronnie Marmo, and Tommy Calavito as zany goons planning a heist but without talent for it.  Hillary Rosen as the victim’s buxom mistress beats them to it, to the satisfaction of all concerned-all but the offstage victim, who deserves what he gets, anyway.

Saint Nick, written and directed by Marmo, tells of trauma and healing at the Christmas dinner of an Italian-American family.  Grieving mother Josie (Mitzi McCall) deals with her bereavement and despair, aided by Berti, as her handsome soldier son, Lizzy Press, Vicki Rocchi, and Charlene Amoia as her daughters, and most of all by her husband (McCall’s real-life husband, Charlie Brill).  Brill and McCall, showbiz veterans and legends, opened for the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 on the historic night the Fav Four made their U.S. debut.

Overall, the evening is an exercise, an experiment, and an expression of the company’s esprit de corps and determination to get on with it.

By Polly Warfield
L.A. Weekly online review