May 8th, 2017

PORTRAIT OF THE WIDOW KINSKI - The Blank Theater Living Room

Written by: Sara Jean Accuardi
Directed by: Samantha Shada
Produced by: Ryland Shelton

Cast: Joanna Miles, Frank Collison, Jon Prescott, Tinks Lovelace


November 20th, 2015

FRONT DOOR OPEN Tackles the Effects of Agoraphobia on a Family.

by Shari Barrett

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety and/or panic attacks in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment to be dangerous, uncomfortable, or unsafe. These situations can include wide-open spaces, uncontrollable social situations, unfamiliar places, shopping malls, airports, and bridges. The sufferers may go to great lengths to avoid those situations, in severe cases becoming unable to leave their homes or safe havens. About 3.2 million, or about 2.2% of adults (mostly women) in the US between the ages of 18 and 54, suffer from agoraphobia.

Playwright Tom Baum has personal experience with the disorder, having a mother who could never leave home without her husband, led him to approach actress Joanna Miles about writing a play about the subject with her in mind to play the lead. The world premiere of his play FRONT DOOR OPEN, directed by acclaimed theater and television director Asaad Kelada, deals with a woman who is unable to leave her home, locking herself inside with a large barking dog banished to the kitchen, several front door locks as well as a state-of-the-art security system which is always on. And yet she still walks around with a meat pounder whenever any noise, either inside of out, frightens her. 

Joanna Miles portrays Eleanor, with her disorder affecting her entire family. Her long-suffering husband Douglas (David Selby) is a surgeon at odds with the effects of getting older on his surgery skills, thus constantly feeling the need to always be in control of all things at home. Add to that stress the need to be all things for his wife and it is no wonder Douglas is approaching a nervous breakdown on his own. In the moments where Douglas can take no more, Selby explodes with the bent up anger, rage and frustration of a man caught in more than one trap, trying to deal with wanting to be all things to all people and fearing he will disappoint everyone. 

When her daughter Gretchen (Anna Nicholas) and granddaughter Thalia (Lizzy Rich) show up unannounced, it’s enough to throw poor Eleanor into a tailspin, especially when she realizes they plan to stay as her daughter has separated from her husband in California. Both are aware of what they are up against living in Eleanor’s home, and although they respect her need to feel safe, each goes about trying to assist her in overcoming her fear of the outside world in their own ways. Gretchen is a school counselor who attempts tp push too hard psychologically to get her mother to move past her fears. 

But it is her granddaughter Thalia who eventually gets through to Eleanor, as she is unable to deal with the what in her teenager eyes seems to be a matter of just opening the front door and walking outside with her. “Grandma,” she tells Eleanor, “it’s like you are grounding yourself.” After their confrontation leads to a violent reaction, Eleanor’s willingness to attempt what has been impossible for her to do on her own begins her ascent over the need to be locked up to feel safe.

Joanna Miles is a wonder in the role, allowing us to witness the birth of her character’s new state of being in a realistic and totally natural way. Since the play takes place is a matter of 90 minutes without an intermission, director Kelada keeps the family confrontations moving at a quick pace with each one allowing us to see the progression Eleanor must make as she is confronted by each family member and intense situation. Miles starts the play as a woman basically afraid of her own shadow, hearing voices where none exists, and takes us with her as Eleanor learns to live and feel comfortable in the world beyond her own four walls. Her transformation is miraculous and totally believable. Miles performance, along with her other cast members, should not to be missed by anyone who appreciates fine acting done to perfection.

November 16th, 2015

BWW Review: Greenway Court Has FRONT DOOR OPEN

by Don Grigware

Front Door Open/by Tom Baum/directed by Asaad Kelada/Greenway Court Theatre/through December 13

As art imitates life, dysfunctional family make up the majority of characters onstage nowadays. Life crises consistently prove that no one is perfect. Thank heavens! If they were, there'd be no conflicts, and in the theatre, no drama. In Tom Baum's new world premiere play Front Door Open, the matriarch of the dysfunctional brood (Joanna Miles) is suffering from agoraphobia, The disease strikes 1 in 50 Americans, whereby its victims do not leave the house. Due to deep, inexplicable emotional issues, they lock themselves in. Now at the Greenway Court Theatre in Hollywood, Front Door Open boasts a superb four person cast headed by pros Miles and David Selby and helmed by prolific television director Asaad Kelada. As absorbing as the play may be, it is not without its flaws, however. In many ways, the relationships may remind you of On Golden Pond, but it is not nearly as well-honed or humorous.

First, let's check the storyline. Douglas (David Selby), a reliable east coast surgeon and his wife Eleanor (Miles) put on their masks and play games with each other. They go along day to day, ignoring the gravity of their deteriorating relationship, feigning contentment. Their relationship is based on need. She is on medications and shut in, relying totally on him; he is her caregiver, a relentless watch dog. In short, misery is the name of the game. Into this mess walks daughter Gretchen (Anna Nicholas) and her teenage daughter Thalia (Lizzy Rich). Gretchen, a therapist on the west coast, has lost her job and is on the verge of divorcing her screenwriter husband Larry. Due to financial insecurity, she has also lost her California home. Gretchen never really got along with her parents, and they haven't seen Thalia since she was a tot, so neither are particularly welcome guests. They all become concerned with Eleanor's irrational behavior, but she insists that it is not alzheimer's and pushes her independence to the limit.

This is only the second play about agoraphobia that I have encountered. The first was Carey Crim's Wake, whose victim was much younger than Eleanor. It is interesting to note that the disease affects people at any age, but obviously, as in Eleanor's case, it gives us a more horrifying glimpse of the issues of growing old.

The major problem with the play is that it takes an hour to get off the ground. Each of the characters possesses a secret about the past but we do not get even a hint or glimmer of hope until the last half hour, when Eleanor finally forces herself out of the house and takes a long walk into town. This is undoubtedly a small New England town. There are decaying birch trees in the back yard and Eleanor walks to a store named Kroegers and returns wearing a pretty new straw hat, whilst everyone is frantically trying to locate her. It would be nice if Baum set the scene for us but he does not. There is some wonderfully naturalistic dialogue, great moments of humor, as when Eleanor puts a flower in her hair and proceeds to dance around in a flirtatious way while watching TV, but that's it. The humor and playfulness end there. What remains for all four characters is heavy and heavier 'til final curtain. I won't spoil the ending, but I did like its unpredictability and optimism. Also refreshing is how Baum gets the three generations to deal adequately with one another, showing that regardless when love is at the core of family, life goes on.

Under Kelada's finely paced direction, the ensemble give terrific performances. Miles is so real from moment to moment as Eleanor that she could be reading the phone book and you would believe her every word. A superior actress! I have never seen David Selby better in his emotional interpretation of the frustrated husband Douglas, loving his wife but at a crossroads as to how to continue. Douglas's old-fashioned reactions to Thalia's tattoos and her flagrant cursing may seem old hat by now, but Selby makes them vibrate, giving them renewed life. Nicholas and Rich are both excellent. Nicholas has the most complicated character and she does her best to wade through the confusion, but Baum needs to clarify her past a bit more and enhance the father/daughter conflict. As is, much of her life, especially with Larry, is vague.

Tom Meleck's set design of the rather cold living room is functional and sound design by Joseph "Sloe" Slawinski is overall good, but the dog barking and growling in the kitchen sounds artificial and should be improved.

Go see Front Door Open at the Greenway Court through December 13! You may not learn anything new about the problems of growing old but you will be thoroughly moved by the stellar work of Joanna Miles and David Selby.

(photo credit: Ed Krieger)

November 9, 2015

BWW Interview: Emmy Winning Actress JOANNA MILES Discusses FRONT DOOR OPEN

by Don Grigware

Actress Joanna Miles, who won two Emmy Awards in 1973 for playing Laura in TV's The Glass Menagerie, will co-star with David Selby in a world premiere drama Front Door Open at the Greenway Court Theatre in LA opening November 13. In our talk, Miles discusses the play, her costar David Selby as well as highlights from her career.

Tell me what it was like growing up in France? Were you bilingual?

I was born in France during the war. My mother was an American and we were helped to come back to America in probably forty-two. So, I never did very well with my French. We were a headline in the New York Times as the last Americans out of France. My father was from Europe and happy to get out.

When did the acting bug bite? At a very young age?

My parents were painters and although they both became successful, I found my mother's struggles particularly frightening. So I decided acting was a better idea. In those days, the business of acting was different then it is now. Work was plentiful. The Stanislavsky Method had just come into being and there were some truly amazing teachers in New York, each of whom put his or her personal spin on it. Harold Clurman.  Stella Adler. Uta Hagen. Sandy Meisner. Lee Strasberg. I auditioned and was accepted into the Actor's Studio and had the chance to study with an impassioned group of young actors including Al Pacino, Bob DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman. We lived and breathed acting and would gather at Joe Allen's or Jimmy Ray's to celebrate whatever was happening.

I have the DVD of The Glass Menagerie and love your performance in it. What was it like working with Katharine Hepburn? Did you get along well? What did you learn from that whole experience? Also comment on Sam Waterston and MIchael Moriarty, if you would.

The Glass Menagerie was casting. It was produced by David Susskind and was to be shot in London. It was 1973. I had done the play in stock with Dustin Hoffman. Bill Devane wanted me to call Alixe Gordin the casting director. When I didn't do it, he plugged a dime into the pay phone and handed me the receiver.

I was asked to read the Gentleman Caller scene, but I had prepared a scene with Amanda. So Katharine Hepburn agreed to read with me, and she cast me on the spot. It was truly a wonderful experience. Katharine Hepburn was an exciting person, who made the set a very demanding place. She even rode around London on her bicycle. It was a pleasure to work with the director Tony Harvey, who had just directed The Lion In Winter. Of course Michael Moriarty and Sam Waterston were the best. Let's not forget Tennessee Williams who couldn't have been more pleased.

Tell us about your involvement with Star Trek. It seems that the best actors get to play wildly fun roles in this series. Did you have fun?

Star Trek was such an unlikely job for me. It was 1991 and I was asked to play the role of Perrin, the wife of Sarek, who was played by Mark Lenard. I'm still invited to Star Trek conventions and frequently asked to sign autographs. Due to the magical mind of creator Gene Roddenberry, my character was Spock's mother despite the fact that Leonard Nimoy was nine years older than I. The sets were something wonderful. I brought my young son one day and the crew activated the doors and set pieces to give him a treat. A lot of it was activated by ropes from the rafters. People seem to be very fascinated with this show.

Any other film role remain a favorite of yours? If so, which one?

I appeared in a film called Born Innocent, which, because of its subject matter, became instrumental in creating the network television family hour. It was about a young girl who was a constant runaway. She was played by Linda Blair, who is incarcerated and finds herself caught between her brutal peers, her abusive family and the system. I played the only care worker who understood.

My husband, Michael Brandman, is a producer and in partnership with Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy. He put together a series of films for television, all written by playwrights. It gave me the chance to work with some pretty impressive writers: Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Wendy Wasserstein and Horton Foote. I appeared in all six films, playing a host of different characters, some of them unrecognizable.

To the project at hand. Tell us about Front Door Open. How did you become involved in this project?

A few years ago I developed a series of short plays called "Women In Shorts". One of those plays was about a woman with agoraphobia. I went to the writer Tom Baum and the director Asaad Kalada and asked if they would be interested in developing the short play into a full length play. They agreed and here we are.

What role are you playing? Does the play have a topical theme?

The part I'm playing is Eleanor, who has Agoraphobia and hasn't left the house in many years. In my research I found out that one in fifty people in our country have this problem. The play is also about what this condition can do to the family.

Have you and David Selby worked together before? If so, in what?

Yes, David Selby and I have worked together before. We played husband and wife in a film starring Hume Cronyn, that Horton Foote wrote about life after his wife and life time partner died. Hume told me that for years he developed work for himself and Jessica Tandy. He didn't wait around for someone to offer him something.

What other observations about the business today would you care to comment on? Are you happy with where you currently are?

As I mentioned at the outset, the business has changed significantly over the years. There was a time when there were plenty of roles for older actors in movies and television. Those days are gone. Unlike England, where older actors are celebrated and important work is plentiful, here they're put out to pasture and are rarely, if ever, seen again. I'm proud to be active in the west coast branch of The Actor's Studio. I'm delighted to be acting and writing and even producing plays in the vital and energized Los Angeles theatre scene.


April 27, 2015

Women On Time - Reviewed

by Travis Michael Holder

Working Stage Theater

How half of society has been forced through the years to suffer the slings and arrows of expectations concerning the way that half’s gender is supposed to act while acquiescing to being called the weaker sex is the overlying theme of Women On Time. In a series of seven original interrelated short one-act plays, written and directed by women and featuring three spectacular actors each playing 21 roles, the production is a minor epic in its ambition and scope.

It’s been more than 150 years since American women began to fight for the right to vote and, as these one-acts jump back and forth in time from the suffragette movement to the present, the question is how much has truly changed and how much has unfortunately stayed as inequitable as ever. Each of these stories is important in understanding the nature of womanhood, from the dawning of the 20th century until today.

The disparate material is equally rich and decidedly pointed. Susanna Styron’s striking “Suffrage” is set in 1917, as a woman (Julie Janney) is torn between the fight for the vote her friend (Joanna Miles) has taken on and the inane shock voiced by her vapid married daughter (Kimberley Alexander), who simply can’t offer an opinion that doesn’t begin with, “My husband says….”

In Bonnie Garvin’s “Flight School,” three stewardesses in 1992 fight against sexual harassment that goes way beyond coffee, tea, or him. “ ‘No’ is not a word in the American male vocabulary,” one laments, something all too apparent when the eldest and most conservative among them admits an even more devastating incident she faced when she was younger, during a period of history when she had nowhere to go to seek justice.

Set in 1962, Nikki McCauley’s “To Bra or Not To Bra” features a young blossoming free-spirit daughter (Alexander) trying to convince her mother (Janney) that she should lose her uncomfortable contraption. Lorin Howard’s “Defining Moments” recalls the back-alley abortions of 1955, an era when giving birth out of wedlock still carried the scarlet “A” of society’s unacceptance.

Deborah Pearl’s arrestingly wickedly Network-ish play “Invaluable,” set in the present as three ad execs battle one another for power, shows how desperately twisted and ruthlessly competitive the plight of women in the workforce has become, while Miles’s “Lunch” is a refreshing comedic respite from the heaviness of some of the other storylines, as three modern air-kissing, Gucci-clad social climbers meet for lunch at The Ivy, only to discover Anthony Weiner–style wiener photos of one of the ladies’ office-seeking husband have hit the Internet.

Perhaps the most memorable of these pieces is Bridget Terry’s right-to-the-bone “Rosies,” set at the end of World War II, as two women leave the factory jobs they held during the conflict so that the “boys” can reassume their rightful place in the workforce. As the eldest of the three squirms because the plant’s Hispanic cleaning woman has been offered a ride home, and as she is even more horrified when her co-worker expresses a desire to stay working rather than to return to dutiful housewifely status, the point is made loud and clear when she blurts, “Don’t bite my head off! I didn’t make the rules!”

All seven short plays are exceptional. Uber-committed performers Janney, Miles, and Alexander are equally amazing in their ability to switch from one gloriously rich character to another; and directors Iris Merlis, Maria Gobetti, Jenny O’Hara, and Terry must be commended for bringing such divergent and focused perspectives into the tales. And although Fritz Davis’s period-shifting video projections are absolute perfection, adding so much with so little to Thomas Meleck’s creatively austere set and lighting designs, only one thing mars the flow to the point of distraction: clumsy, unnecessarily elaborate set changes between each story that could be consolidated or pared down without harming where the stories attempt to take us.

Whatever small druthers there may be, the women who created and perform in this unique production are indeed on time, on an important mission, and right on the money—times seven. Now, if only our society would listen so we could be sure their most urgent and vital message will prove itself to have been on time.

April 23rd, 2015

Women on Time — Women’s Thoughts and Struggles Throughout the Decades

by Victoria Blackburn

Women on Time is a cleverly named theatrical show produced by Bridget Terry with 5inaHive, featuring seven original one-act vignettes depicting three women in various time periods of American life. The play stars Joanna Miles, Julie Janney, and Kimberly Alexander playing different characters throughout, yielding an insider's look at what it meant to be a woman from WWI to the modern era.

The opening vignette, Flight School, written by Bonnie Garvin and directed by Jenny O’Hara, opens with a video montage of male pilots strutting on the runway to Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy.” The scene then shifts to three flight attendants setting up a snack cart in 1992. The song and visual would suggest a comedy and there are hysterical lines like, “Do you think her generation had orgasms?”…poking fun at the oldest of the three ladies. However, the theme turns dark as the truth sinks in that this is a piece about sexual harassment in the work force. The youngest flight attendant, played by Alexander, is upset at the pilot’s advances toward her. The eldest of the three, played by Miles, then reveals that a co-pilot raped her when she first began her career, leaving the audience with the impression that we have not come very far in a male dominated work force. In fact, sexual harassment was largely ignored until it was brought into the public eye as late as 1991, when Anita Faye Hill accused her boss at the U.S. Department of Education, Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment.

From there we travel into the ‘60s as the 5th Dimension’s “Age of Aquarius” plays over footage of a time of hippies and free love. In this scene, three women have a conversation at a lingerie shop over whether to free themselves of their brassieres. To Bra or Not to Bra, written by Nikki McCauley and directed by Jenny O’Hara, starts with Alexander trying to talk her mother, Janney, into going braless. Janney’s response, that she leaves her bra on at all times, even while in bed with her husband – “only sometimes, if it’s lights out” – is telling of the generation rift of that era. When Alexander tries to convince the older sales clerk, Miles, of the freedom in “letting go,” the clerk responds, “I know where they will go, to the floor.” The daughter does not understand the archaist thinking of her elders and is ready to start the feminist movement right then, one bra at a time.

Next, Taylor Swift’s tune “Shake It Off” transitions the audience into an office environment in the present day. Invaluable, written by Deborah Pearl and directed by Maria Gobetti, juxtaposes the idea of how far women’s rights have come against the idiom that old habits, like survival instincts, die hard. In this segment, Alexander steps into the CEO position of a company and then immediately tries to push Miles out in a show of age discrimination. Miles does not leave demurely, however. With her years devoted to the company and without a man or family to disappoint, she proves to the younger woman that their two minds working together can create a powerful empire. But that doesn’t stop both women from edging out a third female coworker, Janney. We may live in a time where females can become CEOs, yet we still know how to hunt and peck like hens.

A popular segment was Rosies, written and directed by producer Bridget Terry. It is 1945 and Rosie the Riveter is a popular icon, as women went to work while their men went to war. Yet even after proving themselves to be hard-working employees, as soon as the men came home, it was time for the women to step down. The older generation was happy to do so. As Miles exclaims, when the men and boys come home after working hard in combat, they should come home to their regular employment; it is not women’s right to take these jobs from them. Janney has a differing opinion. She liked working and wants to keep on doing it. The ensuing conversation demonstrates that while this was the beginning of a new pattern of women entering the work environment, conflicting attitud es about a woman’s place in society made for a tough transition that has not fully been resolved.

Old time popcorn videos danced the audience into Intermission. “Let’s all go to the lobby to get ourselves a treat.” As patrons did just that, music from different time periods began to play. The soundtrack varied from the 1950s Mcguire Sisters hit “Sincerely” to Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.”

Defining Moments, written by Lori Howard and directed by Iris Merlis, jolts us back into 1955 when abortions were illegal. A young girl, Alexander, knocks on a woman’s door begging her to help get rid of her fetus. Miles has a makeshift clinic set up on her kitchen table to help women get out of their situations without physical harm to themselves. Tension rises as Alexander’s mother, Janney, comes barging in with her religious beliefs and a strong opinion about letting the baby live. The ensuing dialogue brings to light many of the same arguments still engaged in today among abortion advocates and opponents.

2011 was a time of Eliot Spitzer, movie stars and new breed of actors, reality show celebrities. “Lunch” was written by actress Joanna Miles and directed by Maria Gobetti. The scene opens with images of The Real Housewives of Orange County and Beverly Hills, which quickly fades into a real-life portrayal of the popular shows as three ladies lunching together try to make expressions through their Botox. Texting is popular, and one man gets caught texting with his pants down. The women debate over telling his wife, but when they do she claims she will support him, “Because that’s what women do.” Even in our modern era, we are still supporting men much like we did in bygone days.

Suffrage, the final vignette written by Susanna Styron and directed by Iris Merlis, shows exactly how far we have come and where progress is still needed. It is 1917 and the topic up for debate is women’s right to vote. Janney is a housewife happy to take care of her man and have him plant thoughts into her head. He thinks for her and all she cares about is pleasing him. Her perspective changes as Miles convinces her that President Wilson’s brand of democracy is not a true democracy if women can’t vote. “A negro will become president before a woman is.” At the time, African Americans were still segregated and women were considered free. Yet they were not free to be all they could be, and definitely not free from their husband’s grasp, or that of other men in the workplace.

“Let the River Run” by Carly Simon was a powerful closer to the evening’s entertainment. The song was made popular by the 1988 film Working Girl, a film about women fighting to get ahead in the work place. In the setting of Women in Time, the tune made for a subtle finale bringing to life women’s truths in our own time.

All three actresses did a great job voicing the opinions of various generations through superb, stimulating writing. The projected images ushering in each time period were powerful, as were the songs highlighted throughout the thought provoking play. The seven vignettes are interwoven beautifully and do a great job illustrating how while many attitudes have changed over the years, many still remain the same. Even today, we are baby-stepping our way into equality while some women still fight against it. We still stand behind our men, even if it means giving up some of the freedoms we so desire to achieve.

April 21st, 2015


by Morna Murphy Martell

Here are seven short plays about the social and emotional dilemmas faced by women in the US over the past 100 years. The 5inaHIVE Production’s mission is toproduce theater by and about women which, in this case, they do superbly. There’s no male bashing here, but an honest view of American women’s ongoing battle to retain dignity and awareness. Told out of sequence, with humor and meaning, the impact is strong and the irony ever present.

In historic sequence: (1917) a suffragette awakens a dormant rebellion in a conventional woman; (1945) a woman in WW2 has discovered the pleasure and camaraderie of hard work; (1955) three generations are divided over illegal abortion at the possible cost of a young girls life;

 (1962) the dubious liberation of being bra-less in the Flower Child decade; (1992) some airline stewardesses differ over what exactly is sexual harassment; (2011) the stand-by-your-man good wife is faced by a humiliating political scandal, and (2015) the bone-chilling efficiency of the modern executive is pitted against those who fought the battles that got her there.

All of these engaging playlets are performed brilliantly by the same three women in vastly different guises. Joanna Miles is the sagacious one; Julie Janney the thoughtful learner, and Kimberly Alexander the callow youngster. Each one amazingly transforms into vastly different characters, yet all lend weight to the theme of women discovering their power and place in the world.

Plaudits to authors Bonnie Garvin, Lorin Howard, Nikki McCauley, Deborah Pearl, Susanna Styron, producer Bridget Terry, and actress Miles. All are well served by directors Iris Merlis, Maria Gobetti, Jenny O’Hara and Terry. Set and lighting by Tom Meleck are enhanced by fabulous video projections credited to Fritz Davis and transformative costumes by Betty Madden.

April 20, 2015

“Women on Time” Opens at the Working Stage Theater in West Hollywood

by Dr. Laura Wilhelm, The Hollywood Times

(L to R) Joanna Miles, Kimberly Alexander, and Julie Janney (All Photos by: Vanessa Mirabal)

(L to R) Joanna Miles, Kimberly Alexander, and Julie Janney (All Photos by: Vanessa Mirabal)

“Women on Time” opened at the quaint 52-seat Working Stage Theater located at 1516 North Gardner Street in West Hollywood on the evening of Sunday, April 19th, beginning at 7 p.m. The production presents seven original short plays featuring women who navigate through the past century from the suffragist movement to 21st-century corporate America.

Produced by Bridget Terry with 5inaHive and starring actresses Joanna Miles, Julie Janney, and Kimberly Alexander in 21 separate roles, “Women on Time” is a tour de force of acting talent bolstered by poignant scripts and projections from each historical period. According to the program notes the seven plays are set in 1992 (“Flight School”), written by Bonnie Garvin and directed by Jenny O’Hara;1962 (“To Bra or Not To Bra”), written by Nikki McCauley and directed by Jenny O’Hara; 2015 (“Invaluable”), written by Deborah Pearl and directed by Maria Gobetti; 1945 (“Rosies”), written and directed by Bridget Terry; 1955 (“Defining Moments”), written by Lorin Howard and directed by Iris Merlis; 2014 (“Lunch”), written by Joanna Miles and directed by Maria Gobetti; and 1917 (“Suffrage”), written by Susanna Styron and directed by Iris Merlis.

This reporter picked up on three distinct themes of particular importance to American culture as follows:

1) Puritanism and sexual repression: In play #1 (“Flight School”), a young flight attendant is sexually harassed by her airline captain seated offstage in the plane’s cockpit. It turns out that decades before the oldest flight attendant was raped by her co-pilot during her first overseas flight to Paris but never reported the crime. In play #2 (“To Bra or Not To Bra”), a young daughter dares her mother and the older saleswoman in a lingerie store to remove their bras for five minutes. In play #5 (“Defining Moments”), a young girl who has tried to self-administer an abortion is illegally treated by a midwife while her very religious mother urges her to have the baby and put it up for adoption.

2) The glass ceiling for women: In play #3 (“Invaluable”), two older women who never got what they deserved from their nameless corporation are menaced by their new boss, a female 26-year-old Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Harvard Business School who made her mark at Google. In play #6 (“Lunch”), women political campaigners are thrown for a loop when their male candidate posts a selfie of his penis on the Internet.

3) The impact of war on the women’s movement: In play #4 (“Rosies”), women who had worked in munitions factories during World War II like Rosie the Riveter are faced by the return of their husbands from the front. In play #7 (“Suffrage”), President Woodrow Wilson brings America into World War I in 1917 while the nation’s women are making their final push for universal voting rights, which were gained in 1920.

The scenes are laced with wry humor that underscores the oftentimes absurd nature of women’s historical experience in America. “Mark my words, a Negro will be President before a woman is!” exclaims one of the characters in the final play, “Suffrage.” Hmm, maybe.

Not all of the younger characters are seen as the most active or progressive. In play #3 (“Invaluable”), the oldest female executive bravely and effectively stands up to the younger boss who tries to push her out of the position she has built up over a period of decades. The most devoted suffragist in play #7 (“Suffrage”) is also the oldest one who has been with the movement the longest.

The play’s soundtrack is filled with great period songs such as Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” during the opening and Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” during the finale. The Rolling Stones’ always controversial “Honky Tonk Women” could be heard during the fifteen-minute intermission.

In conversation with the play’s producer, writers, and actresses, many displayed a preference for the period pieces. This reporter felt that the contemporary themes were more nuanced in their portrayals as is natural to expect.

April 20th, 2015

Women on Time reviewed

by Rob Stevens

5inaHive, a group of theatre artists with a goal to produce theatre by and about women, had a very interesting concept for their first production, Women on Time, premiering at Working Stage Theatre. They are presenting seven original short plays about women—from suffragettes to present day corporate executives. Each play features three characters—a younger, a middle-aged and an older woman—each a voice for her generation’s perspective amid the issues of the time. All played by the same talented and finely meshed ensemble of Kimberly Alexander, Julie Janney and Joanna Miles, respectively. The result is a pleasant, fast-moving evening that both entertains and illuminates how much has changed and how much has stayed the same for women since they secured the right to vote nearly a century ago.

Joanna Miles, Kimberly Alexander and Julie Janney (all photos by Vanessa Mirabel)

Bonnie Garvin’s Flight School takes us on board an airplane in 1992 while three flight attendants get ready for beverage service. The youngest, Sandra(Alexander), was nearly raped in her hotel room the night before by the pilot. Even in flight, he is still managing to sexually harass her. The older prim Helen (Miles) is at first shocked by Sandra’s language and by the revelations. Then she breaks down and confesses she was raped by a pilot when she first entered service. Her final response to the cockpit is a real hoot. Nikki McCauley’s To Bra or Not to Bra is set in 1962 as Mom (Janney) tries to convince her young daughter (Alexander) she needs to buy and wear a bra to her father’s special event. But the free-spirited daughter turns the tables and unhooks the bra straps by convincing her Mom and the elderly sales clerk (Miles) to have a go at going braless.

Joanna Miles, Kimberly Alexander and Julie Janney

Deborah Pearl’s Invaluable is set in today’s dog-eat-dog corporate boardrooms as young whiz Megan (Alexander) attempts to take control of a division of a corporation by ousting her legendary predecessor Barbara (Miles). But the old dog still has some tricks and proves women can be just as treacherous in the workplace as men. Bridget Terry’s Rosies closes the first act by looking back at the women who kept this country producing war materials while the men were away fighting World War II. Elderly Fern (Miles) doesn’t mind being dismissed from her job in an aircraft company in 1945 but Peg (Janney) really liked the money and the sense of independence she earned in the past few years. Even though her husband will be back home within a week, Peg wants to keep working and keep earning. That’s no problem for Latina Lupe (Alexander). Every factory needs someone to clean the toilets.

Joanna Miles, Kimberly Alexander and Julie Janney

Act Two’s opener is the evening’s emotional heavyweight. Lorin Howard’s Defining Moments is set in 1955 as 18-year old Faith (Alexander), bleeding profusely from a self-inflicted attempt at abortion, finds her way to elderly abortionist Esther (Miles). When Faith’s overbearing and overly religious mother Mary (Janney) arrives and starts praying and ordering Esther to save the child at any cost, Esther reminds her that the cost may be the loss of her own child. The three women face a harrowing experience that was a commonplace occurrence until Roe vs Wade. But now as conservatives attempt to turn back the clock and once again take control of women’s bodies, this scenario can be seen as a wake-up call.

Joanna Miles, Julie Janney and Kimberly Alexander

Joanna Miles penned Lunch, the evening’s funniest outing. Three Beverly Hills housewives are meeting for lunch at The Ivy when Helen (Miles) discovers something hilarious and unfortunate on the internet. Christie (Alexander), the victim of too much Botox and lips that won’t move, is desperate to find out what. When political wife Sandra (Janney) finally arrives she discovers photos of her politician husband’s penis are trending on the internet. Will she remain the “good wife?” Alexander’s characterization is spot on and side-splittingly funny. The evening ends with Susanna Styron’s Suffrage, a look back how three different generations of women viewed the increasingly vocal suffragette movement as the USA entered the war in 1917.

The mood of each piece was deftly set by the video projections and sound design of Fritz Davis. The plays’ directors—Maria Gobetti, Jenny O’hara, Bridget Terry and Iris Merlis kept the evening moving briskly and got nuanced performances—both comic and dramatic—out of their trio of actresses. The seven plays wrap in under two hours including intermission. If only other playwrights were this brief and concise. Women on Time is worth your time.

April 19, 2015

Women on Time - Review

by Willard Manus

Femme power takes center stage in Women in Time, a bill of seven short plays produced, written, acted and directed by women. All the one-acts deal, naturally, with women’s issues. The same three actresses, Joanna Miles, Julie Janney and Kimberly Alexander, appear in each of the plays, taking on different characters in a variety of settings. Their skillful, tour de force performances are a joy to behold.

The plays range in time: Suffrage (by Styron) is set in 1917, and the other plays proceed from there up through the 20th century into the present (Pearl’s Invaluable takes place in a glossy corporate board room). The numerous set and costume changes are handled deftly by the cast and crew, with all transitions aided greatly by Thomas Meleck’s set & lighting design and by Fritz Davis’s period video projections.

The tone of each play depends on its content: Flight School (by Garvin), about a 1992 stewardess trying to cope with a pilot’s sexual harassment, has an angry, rebellious edge to it. To Bra Or Not to Bra (McCauley), set in a 1962 department-store lingerie department, is bawdily comic. Defining Moments (Howard), set in 1955, deals with an illegal abortion in a graphically dramatic way.

Most of the plays focus on women battling for freedom and equality in a male world, except for Invaluable, which allows that women in the corporate world can be just as driven and ruthless as the guys.

March 19th, 2011

Women In Shorts - A Conversation

by R.M. Sydnor, Oxford Review

Joanna Miles & Louis Davis

Joanna Miles & Louis Davis

Women in Shorts, starring Joanna Miles and Louise Davis at the Working State Theater in Hollywood, is a delicious existential collection of six short plays from six writers and six directors.  Despite all the cooks, this toothsome dish is served very well indeed. Miles and Davis’ thoughtful performances bring a singular spirit to these stories with themes of economic vicissitudes, agoraphobia, long-term family responsibility, and the limits of love. This is great stuff for anyone who wants more than simply a night out at the theater.

What brought the two of you together for Women in Shorts?

A few years ago, Louise and I were in a play called “Chairwomen”. So, we decided to look around for something new to do. We came up with the idea of asking the writers from the Actors Studio playwright’s group to write ten minute plays for two women.

“Women in Shorts”, rather nice paronomasia, is a collection of existential vignettes that speak to the larger issues of the roles we play in life and relationships. What makes these slices of life work for me is the comfort level that the two of you have as actresses with each other and the roles.

It took us time to put this all together and people have asked why it took so long. We had a few unfortunate events around physical illnesses and accidents, so we decided to keep working until everyone had recovered. That gave us the benefit of growing in each role. The truth is, is there a time limit that is acceptable? It’s silly. You do what you have to do. For us it was a gift that we might not have had with a more predictable rehearsal schedule.

It seems clear to me that Woman in Shorts is truly a perspicacious study of the complex nature of human relationships. This is certainly apparent in Sisters, Divorces R US.

I thought the playwrights would write news worthy themes because of everything that is going on today. Nicely, their plays turned out to contain those issues, but in a more personal way, as you have pointed out.

Park Strangers is certainly my favorite among these delightful pieces, an existential twist on six degrees of separation.  While watching you perform, the theater of the absurd and Albert Camus’ assessment in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) that the human situation is essentially absurd, devoid of purpose came fresh to mind.  Two women from disparate urban milieus come together in park and who lives curiously intersect in a most unique way.

Yes, I agree that the conceit of that play is quite lovely because it explores the foolishness of our values: “Vaginal Itch” and “smoking” and loss, by allowing us to laugh at ourselves and to forgive.

The two of you faced a daunting challenge of performing diverse characters from a number of writers. This is not easy to achieve, but you do so admirable.  Tell us about your preparation in each of the plays.

The theme was, “Issues of our time.” We also wanted the plays to be set in a park. In order to avoid a lot of set changes. Out of a number of submissions, we chose six plays, which was all we could handle. We met with the writers and directors of each play and shared our ideas and theirs about the content and the characters. Some plays needed a lot of time and others came together easily.

You also faced the tantamount challenge of working with different writers but six directors with unquestionably different points of view.  It can be tough just communicating with one much more six.  I envy the two of you.

At first we were going to have one director, but then decided it would be interesting to have different directors for each play. Mostly because the plays needed work, but also because scheduling rehearsals was a challenge with an exceedingly busy crowd. It was exciting to work on each play with the different styles that each of the directors brought. Some were interested in exploring the characters and the concept; others thought the character development was our job, so they primarily kept to the business and the blocking. Both worked in their own way because of the plays they shepherded. The truth is, we ended up with separate friendly fiefdoms.

Relationships are a funny thing.  They never really end because they are eternal and spiritual on many levels.  Death and divorce do not end relationships because of this eternal equality.  I felt this deeply in Divorces R US.

I’m not sure that I understand your response to “Divorces R Us” in the same way you do. As much as I adore “Divorces R Us”, for its humor and absurdity, I don’t see death in it or really divorce. I think death is more evident in ‘The Great Out Doors,” which deals with a mother and daughter struggling with the mother’s agoraphobia in response to the mother’s loss of her husband. Nice that each play appeals to a different person in a different way. That’s what theater is supposed to do.

Art and life are inextricable.  What events or relationships in your lives helped with developing characters for “Women in Shorts”?

This is a very complex and in-depth question and I would have to write a book to answer it properly. I use my mother in the “Great Out Doors”. I looked after her during her very long life. I’m playing her in all her controlling and mischievous self. “Magic Rabbit” is about my own fears of losing everything and abandonment. “Ladies of The State” is forcing me to play a woman I don’t agree with. She justifies war for it’s nobility and I think putting guns in young people hands is horrifying and doesn’t win wars. The play takes place in the past. There’s a line in it, “We’ve come so far I can only imagine what the future holds.” Today, we don’t seem to be any wiser.

There is always growth with each role you play.  What has Joanna Miles and Louise Davis learned as actors from this experience?  How have you grown as people?

It was a terrific experience. It was an enormous challenge to learn all the plays much less perform and discover them. We often look at each other and say,”My goodness we did it.” We make discoveries all the time, and with more of a run we would continue to grow. That’s the nice thing about theater versus film. In film you are kind of stuck with what you’ve put out there, at least as an actors.

What is on the horizon for Joanna Miles and Louise Davis?

We would like to have this production move on and have a future life somewhere. We have had a few possibilities suggested, but nothing firm. We would also like to get it published.

I want to add that putting a play on isn’t just the writers and directors and actors, it’s the team of creative people who share in the vision and do their best to make it all happen.

Working with Tom Meleck, our set and lighting designer, has been a gift. He brought so much to our production and would have done more if we had had the money to create changes of season and weather and more.

Betty Madden, our costume designer, created those characters with us. Finding simple pieces that expressed the nature of each person we were living in.

Tom’s son Mike, was our rock and stage manager. He brought order to a certain amount of confusion, with good spirit and patience. Iris Merlis joined us later and also was a great support. Quietly doing her best to give us her time, intelligence and enthusiasm.

March 9th, 2011

Joanna Miles Shines in "Shorts"

by RS Bailey

Joanna Miles & Louis Davis

Joanna Miles & Louis Davis

"Women In Shorts" is six short plays for two women enjoying its world premiere at Hollywood's Working Stage.  These are plays from strong playwrights, staged by strong directors on a unique set with smartly designed costumes.  In short, it is a sharp, professional production.  That being said "Women In Shorts" is an evening of theatre that shines because of the cast.

The plays: "Park Strangers" by Brian Connors, Directed by T.J Castronovo; "The Great Outdoors" by Tom Baum, directed by Asaad Kelada; "Sisters" by Gloria Goldsmith, directed by Judy Chaikin; "Magic Rabbit" by John Fazakerley, directed by Robert Burgos; "Divorces R Us" by Jim McGinn, directed by Bennett Cohon; and "Ladies of the State" by Miles Brandman, directed by Matthew Riley are all strong examples of American Realism, ranging in theme from the necessity of accepting new economic realities, agoraphobia, long term family responsibilities, extremes in marketing, and the limitations of a mother's love.  Fertile ground for actors and the cast does not disappoint.

Louis Davis gives fine performances in all six plays, bringing definition to characters ranging from a young actress, concerned daughter, failed sister, a prominent woman finding a fallen idol, wife seeking an easy divorce, and shines beautifully in "Ladies of the State" as a mother trying to use her social connections to keep her son off of the conscription lists for the army during a time of war.

However, the evening belongs to Joanna Miles who turns in masterful performances.  It's as if she steps into a new skin for each role.  With an ever so slight costume adjustment, a hitch to her posture, and a new something in her eyes, she completely defines each character physically before she ever says a word.  It's a rare event to be able to see an actress portray six uniquely defined characters in a single evening.  She shouldn't be missed.

All of the short plays have no trouble holding the audience's attention but "Ladies of the State", the only piece not to use the uniquely standardized costumes, and the only play set in the past, is the strongest of the night.  The older of the women has influence that can keep the younger woman's son out of the army.  But the older woman knows more about the situation than the mother has let on and is not easy to convince.  She toys with her younger acquaintance and reprimands her for ignoring social customs when she speaks of her problem too quickly.  The younger sees her son slowly moving closer to the troop train and desperately pleads again to keep him home.  Both performances are riveting.