Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Theatre Review: Enter Laughing

© York Theatre Company

Enter Laughing Serves Up Schmaltz

The York Theatre Turns 50 with an old old old old friend

The York Theatre Co celebrates 50 years in 2019 and has re-mounted their 2009 much-lauded production of the musical Enter Laughing. Originally produced for Broadway under the title So Long 174th Street, this old-fashioned musical comedy was way too old fashioned for 1976 audiences that wanted concept and experimental musicals that pushed whatever envelope they thought the 1970s were wrapped up in. Opening the season after A Chorus Line and Chicago, So Long 174th Street racked up a total of 16 performances after its six previews.

With a book by Your Show Of Shows veteran Joseph Stein (author of plays Fiddler On The Roof, Zorba and Rags) and a score by Stan Daniels, Enter Laughing is an adaptation of the novel 'Enter Laughing' by Carl Reiner, also of Your Show of Shows, and is a mildly autobiographical story combining old show business tropes, stereotypes and stories with some of Reiner's teenage life experiences as he struggled to make his way onto the stage. When Stein adapted the book into a stage comedy in 1963 it enjoyed a respectable year-long run and won Alan Arkin his only Tony award. The play was later turned into a 1967 film featuring Shelley Winters, Jose Ferrer, and Elaine May.

Returning the musical to its original source title and tweaking it to adapt the piece to a cast of 10(ish), Director Stuart Ross (father of Forever Plaid and all the little Plaids) has staged this show beautifully -- it is directed, choreographed (by the gifted Jennifer Paulson-Lee) designed (by James Morgan) costumed (by Tyler M. Holland) lit (by Ken Billington & Jason Kantrowitz) to a fine fare-thee-well. In fact, all departments from Kenneth Griffin's stylish wigs to Brooke van Hensbergen wonderfully period props to Julian Evans never-sounded-amplified sound design deliver their assignments admirably.

Enter Laughing is the story of young David Kolowitz, who opens the show by stumbling into a ramshackle depression era theatre to make a delivery from the machine shop where he is employed by the ever-annoyed Mr. Forman (brought to comedy life by the terrific Ray DeMattis) David is immediately stagestruck and wanders the theatre wings dreaming of the day he will tread the boards. The opening number, 'David Kolowitz The Actor', is a repetitive piece of drivel, unhappily reprised near the end of Act 2 for a few lines – a few too many. David makes up his mind to audition for the pay-as-you-exit 'free theatre' not knowing at first the $5 promised is to come out of his own pocket as a sort of 'tuition' for this learning institution. The company is run by the over the top, sloshed and washed up Marlowe, given a fine turn by David Schramm who embodies his character’s scenery chewing, all the while living in real and palpably sympathetic ways. Always drinking and forever frustrated by David's inexperience, Schramm's Marlowe stomps about the backstage of his kingdom swinging wildly from the depths of depression with his ever-present bottle of whiskey, to near mania at just trying to get through the show. David hits roadblocks along his way to opening night in the form of parents that just want him to become a druggist, Marlowe's divinely horny daughter Angela, who informs him he must make another $10 investment on a Tux to wear in the show, and his jealous girlfriend Wanda, who loans him the ten bucks. All comes right in the end; and we the audience know that David grows up to direct, write and act, as well as father the 'Meathead' who gave us the movie The Princess Bride, as well as share a lifelong bit with a 2000-year-old man  -- that is, if we the audience know our pop culture and cinematic history.

The Enter Laughing ensemble is comprised of superb elder craftsman and extremely gifted young artists, all of whom throw themselves into a book and score that is not really up to their standards. Everyone delivers whether their parts call for over the top theatrical shenanigans or more subdued (if a bit stereotyped) Jewish mamma and poppa-isms. In this regard, the incomparable Alison Fraser and Robert Picardo (returning to the stage after way too long) deliver the right mix of Hebrew Hokum and musical comedy deftness that steers them away from Hokie Town. Picardo and DeMattis score a hit song and dance routine in Act 2 with 'Hot Cha Cha' that was my first genuine belly laugh of the night, sadly a bit late in the proceedings. Farah Alvin, whose clear trumpet-like voice has graced every stage in town, gives it her all as Angela, a chip off her father's very large block as far as theatrical mannerisms and drama begetting drama goes. Chris Dwan's David is an adorable, nebbishy protagonist, though his role has no real arc, which can be said of all these characters -- though each player makes the most of what little they are given. Acquitting themselves very well in thankless roles are the hilarious Raji Ahsan who times the few lines he's given expertly, Dana Costello who struggles mightily with an underwritten Miss B for two scenes, the lovely songstress Allie Trimm, whose comedy chops show even though she's chewing nothing but air with this script, and finally poor Joe Veale who's messy Marvin serves only to saunter on stage and point David in the right direction and then go back to join the cast for chorus back up duties. It should be said that David Schramm scores the iconic 'The Butler’s Song', and with it, he scores big time.

Producing Artistic Director Jim Morgan adds a droning 10 minutes to the show's lugubrious 2:22 running time with a pre-show schpiel that should be cut in half, or cut altogether. Ross' retooling of the show seems nothing more than a few tweaks, cutting some numbers and moving others around, but despite his wonderful staging, everything fails to rise from the pit of schmaltz the show ultimately drowns in. Enter Laughing is an overlong tour of the upper east side and theatrical stereotypes that fails to launch. Is the show worth a look?  I didn't hate it, and many of the matinee crowd I sat with really enjoyed it, so it is clearly a matter of taste. In the end, if you like old style musical comedy, family-friendly entertainment with some fine acting and singing of a couple of good tunes, then this show's for you.

Enter Laughing runs about 2 hours 22 minutes with one intermission.

Enter Laughing has been extended, through popular demand, through June 16.

York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Theatre Review: Happy Talk

© The New Group

When audiences don’t know what the play wants to be, does the play?

by Stephen Mosher

How exciting to see Susan Sarandon onstage! I have loved this great American actress all my adult life (I wasn’t allowed to see any of her movies as a kid, go figure). So when I read she was doing a play at the Pershing Square Signature Center I did the unthinkable: that thing I never do, ever. I paid full price for tickets. I wasn’t about to chance it with discounted tickets, this is Susan Sarandon, after all. So I came up out of the pocket, plunked down the cash and showed up on my assigned night to see the Academy Award recipient in a theatre so small that I would be able to hear the play without an assistive listening device, I would be able to actually see Ms. Sarandon in action. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried about any of that because I had forgotten the only seats available were in the first row. No worries about being hard of hearing, this night. I settled into my seat to enjoy a wonderful evening of theatre.

I wish I could say that what I got was a wonderful evening of theatre. But, as is my habit when I leave a play, I asked my actor husband what he thought of the show and he replied 'NOT until after you have written your review.' I respected that he didn’t want to color my findings. He knew that anything he said would affect what I wrote because he can read me like a book and this book was not satisfied with Happy Talk.

The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center is a great place to see new plays.They take the new play thing very seriously, though it is not their entire mission statement. They have done very good productions of some works that are tried and true; but the fact of the matter is that they specialize in new plays. I am losing faith in their ability to choose new plays because in the past I have gone with high hopes and been met with low standards. Happy Talk is no exception. Don’t get me wrong: Jesse Eisenberg’s play has some nice moments, most of them due to a knack with dialogue. The conversations between the characters can flow quite naturally, there were some laughs, there were some surprises. Not many. Indeed, near the end of the play I found myself thinking 'why am I taking this journey?' When you are sitting in a theatre you don’t want to remove yourself from the action to ask yourself why this story needed to be told, but that is precisely what happened to me, and it made me a little mad.

The title Happy Talk refers to a song from the musical South Pacific.  Mr. Eisenberg’s play was once titled Yea, Sister! which also refers to South Pacific. South Pacific is a big part of the play because this is the story of a New Jersey housewife who acts in plays at the Jewish Community Center and she is currently playing Bloody Mary in South Pacific. Get it? A middle aged Jewish lady in New Jersey is playing Bloody Mary. Ok. At her suburban home (a set gorgeously designed by Derek McLane, the kind of set you want to live on) she has an ailing husband and a dying mother, a Serbian in-home caregiver and an estranged daughter who won’t come visit or return phone calls. The ailing husband complains a lot but he seems to be not at all ailing, just kvetchy. The Serbian caregiver seems to be a nice person but seems to be a pretty bad caregiver. The Jewish housewife seems to be a needy, whiny, self-centered person who cannot bear to be left alone in a room. In conversation it comes out that the caregiver, Ljuba, is working her tripe out to bring her daughter to America and she cannot raise the money fast enough. The suggestion of a Green Card marriage comes up and her employer, Lorraine, offers to find her a suitable husband; and into the story comes Ronny, an effete Filipino-American who is playing Lieutenant Cable in the play. Ronny and Ljuba strike up a friendship so as to fool the Immigrations Office and Lorraine feels left out. From there begin the real shenanigans, as the health of both the mother and husband decline, as the estranged daughter pays an impromptu midnight visit, and Lorraine attempts to stay relevant in every storyline in her life.

Scott Elliott has directed some good productions. I’ve seen them. I’ve admired his work. I don’t know what happened here. The evening of theatre was rife with lack of follow-through and with situations that burst up out of nowhere, causing mushroom clouds of implausibilities. Why does the daughter show up out of nowhere in the middle of the night? Why does she hate her mother so much? Why does she crumble and become a weepy, whiny little girl when her father enters the room? Why does Bill, the father, spend three quarters of the play sitting in a chair, complaining, and then suddenly have a huge attack of something that leaves him incapacitated? To what end does Ljuba go from being a simpleton offering chips and salsa to the petulant daughter, to a person who slaps a stranger in the face over a verbal altercation? What is the reason Lorraine is so angry when Ljuba and Ronny become friends, when it was she who arranged their would be marriage?

All the answers occur in the last twelve minutes of the play, and, just as all of the other mushroom clouds in the story, it pops up suddenly and then dissipates. I will admit that when the big reveal happened I gasped, even stopped breathing, and it took awhile for the breath to come back. Mostly because it was the most interesting thing to happen during the entire one hour and forty five minute play (too long for a play at a theatre frequented by senior citizens, by the way). This climactic scene just dropped in our laps like a bag of wet cement and made me wonder where did this come from, why were there no real tells before this, what is the point of this story? If I’m being honest, I lay all of the blame for these questions at the feet of Mr. Eisenberg (a wonderful actor and, by all reports, playwright) and Mr. Elliott. I wish that Misters Eisenberg and Elliott had decided whether or not the play was a comedy or a psychological drama because they might have, better, guided their actors into a more cohesive piece of theatre. The actors, seemingly working on their own, are all doing fine work.

Marin Ireland is a lovely actor who, as Ljuba, seems a bit daft but very sincere (even if her accent work is not) and Nico Santos (of television’s Superstore) is very effective and charming as the hapless gay man playing hyper-macho Lieutenant Cable, but without any discernible singing talent. Daniel Oreskes does the best he can with the underwritten role of the husband, Bill, and Tedra Millan certainly brings angst (perhaps a bit over the top) necessary to communicate how much she resents, even hates, her mother. Susan Sarandon is, indeed, a great American actress. My favorite thing about watching her in the play is watching her listen. When other actors are speaking, she gives them everything. They have her full attention and she is never not present. It is a master class in acting. And her tender, quiet, wistful moment of talking to her not-at-all-present husband and singing 'Bali H’ai' was enough to make me shed a tear or two.

But she is wrong for this part.

© The New Group
The character of Lorraine is a New Jersey Jewish woman who is playing Bloody Mary in South Pacific, and they cast the WASPiest woman this side of Blythe Danner to play her.  The appalling situation of a Caucasian Jew playing Bloody Mary is designed comedy that could only be heightened with the likes of the late Anne Bancroft or Joan Rivers. I’m not sure who I would have hired, were I casting the role myself but Ms. Sarandon simply doesn’t have the over the top commitment to communicate the core essence of Lorraine to the audience, though she handles the pathos beautifully, as well as the rather scary final moments of the play. I never blame an actor for taking a part they have been offered. An actor with a job is a beautiful thing. But this time out, it was a miss, in spite of her obvious talent, gorgeous diction and perfect focus.

I hope the great star will be back on the New York stage soon because she is worth seeing live.

But Happy Talk is not.

Happy Talk runs about 1 Hour 45 Minutes with no intermission. The show runs through June 16, 2019.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

Agents of SHIELD S06E03: Fear and Loathing on the Planet of Kitson


The Agents of SHIELD get high and gamble in a silly and homage driven outing.

by Brandon Coulson

This week’s SHIELD was a strange hodgepodge of tributes to some pop culture icons. The episodes title 'Fear and Loathing on the Planet of Kitson' was a strange one that only pays off its Hunter S. Thompson link in one scene where Daisy starts channeling Johnny Depp as Thompson. Though this came very late into the episode.

The top of the episode started with music that could only be described as a Stranger Things  sound-alike. From there we got a look at what seems to be a Terminator rip off, again with similar accompanying music cues. We later find this 'man' is actually one of the Chronicoms like Enoch though this one is a hunter. The Chronicoms seem to be a race of deus ex machinas seeing as their different types and abilities of those types ebbs and flows to be whatever the current situation requires. Need to teleport? They have a crazy spinning disc for that! Cuffed to something? Well apparently they can stretch their bones and slide right out.

I’m hoping we get a clearer picture of their race and abilities, and even more so their limitations. Enoch gets shut off remotely so one can assume some link between all of them exists but is it two way? Does communication and location tracking come with that?

The biggest question will be what their role is. As they seem hell bent on killing Fitz, supposedly since he already technically died his current self is a glitch in the timeline. Of course that asks how all this time travel stuff works in this world since the rules on the series and the movies seem to be completely at odds.

The episode itself was actually a ton of fun. Completely ignoring events on Earth, we just went all in on the search for Fitz. Now one thing that is going to be annoying is they did find Fitz proving Gemma to be right even though her actions last week were deplorable and this week she basically threatens her entire team. She was still on the wrong risking their lives and I don’t find her dedication bordering on obsession endearing, it’s actually quite dangerous.


What I did like, actually loved, was everything else once they got to the Planet Kitson. With a very Star Wars vibe to the casino and not a terribly big set, it still felt very lived in and managed to do a lot with very little. Fitz and Enoch cheating at games with the inevitable big loss was entertaining and it gave the pair some time to just interact rather than always be expositing. We got a little more insight into Enoch and how he views humans in general which is a very naive perspective. I do find it strange how foreign the concept of lying is for a being who is hundreds of years old, someone must’ve lied to him before.

But the whole gambling, and cheating, sequences were just very fun to watch. It was nice to see a sort of smaller story that just kind of meanders. Quake using her powers to break fingers was a new and interesting use of her abilities and while her fight sequence wasn’t anywhere near May’s from last week, it was still a well choreographed and shot fight.

Of course then we got to the Fear and Loathing part when Quake, Gemma, and Davis all got high as a kite. This was one of the silliest and funniest things the series has ever done. To take the time and have the girls just chilling under a table and having a giggly moment to themselves, plus all the tripiness leading up to that. The only thing that could have made it perfect would have been to have a giant lizard person confront them only to have them be a real alien instead of an hallucination.

The quick reunion and almost immediate removal of Fitz was incredibly frustrating but overall I loved this episode. I am curious to see if the two storylines come together somehow on Earth and in space, but either way I’m having fun. This week might have been a ridiculous and ultimately mostly pointless outing but it brought the fun and plenty of it.

Read more by Brandon on

Purchase episode of Agents of SHIELD from the retailers below and help support HOTCHKA! Click on the image to visit each retailer. Any purchase made through these links will help support our sites.
Shop at

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Review: Wine Country

© Netflix

Wine Country is a celebration of friendship

by Justin Moore

I just got done watching Parks and Recreation again and at this point I’ve given up counting how many times I have watched that show all the way through. One of my favorite characters was Leslie Knope played by Amy Poehler. Anything that Amy Poehler does I find to be funny. So naturally I was excited to see Wine Country since Amy Poehler directed the film and starred in it alongside her former SNL co-stars.

I like that this movie exists since the all the friends in the movie are friends in real life and this movie was inspired by Rachel Dratch’s 50th birthday, which was the reason all the friends got together here in the movie. Starring alongside Dratch is Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Emily Spivey, Paula Pell, and Ana Gasteyer. These six comedic women are all SNL veterans and lifelong friends. By having Poehler work with her friends, it makes for a lot of the humor to feel natural. Not all of the humor in the film is funny, but when the jokes do land, they are hilarious.

The events of Wine Country tend to go off course throughout the film, which was hard for Poehler’s character to handle since she had printed out itineraries for everyone to follow on the trip. From the moment the trip started, everything was laid out for the group minute by minute, but there were many moments that tried to steer away from the group of friends and they weren’t that funny. Many of the friends go off and do their own thing such as Val (Pell) who hopes to hook up with a single woman and attends an art show to impress the woman, much younger than her, and ends up buying art instead. I preferred the scenes where the group was together, because those were the strongest moments in the film.

The constant spending time together and wine drinking led to the group opening up and expressing how they really feel about each other, which everyone saw coming. I totally expected this and was waiting for it, but the characters were never fleshed out which made me not care about that falling out. The film set these characters up nicely where they were all on the phone talking about how they were or weren’t excited for the trip and we get a little glimpse of their lives and how they have drifted off throughout the years. The characters didn’t get much growth in the film because they were often drunk or doing their own thing, which didn’t help those dramatic scenes.

Tina Fey and Jason Schwartzman also star in the film as the owner of the house and chauffeur, who apparently comes with the house and will do whatever the group wants him to do. I was expecting Tina Fey to be a little funnier in her role as widow who is very pessimistic. As Fey is giving the ladies the tour of the land, her strict rules try for humor, but it’s a bit dry.

It was nice to see all these friends together in one film, but it wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be since the ladies are SNL veterans. At times the film dragged and the side plots did help the group feel strong. As for Poehler’s first time directing, she had it easy since she was working with all her friends, but I certainly would like to see her direct another film soon.

Read more of Justin's reviews at

Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

© Netflix
Zac Efron is perfect as Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

by Justin Moore

Netflix has made Ted Bundy popular again. Earlier this year Netflix released a documentary series, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. That series became widely popular on the digital streaming service. So popular that Netflix had to tweet that many people were commenting on Ted Bundy’s alleged hotness and that there are thousands of other men on the streaming service, whom almost all were not convicted serial killers. I thought it was pretty funny that they even had to do that.

The American serial killer admitted to murdering over 30 young women in the 1970s. He gained popularity during his trials because it was the first to be televised in the United States. Many women believed him to charming and handsome, traits that he used to exploit their trust. Zac Efron plays Ted Bundy as he first met his longtime partner, Liz Kendall, played by Lily Collins. This is a unique take on the film as it is from the perspective of Liz and her relationship with Ted. The film is heavily set around Bundy and his trials, but it shows the effects those trials had on her.

I believe Zac Efron was the perfect pick to play Ted Bundy. He didn’t exactly look like him, but Efron’s personality was just right for Ted Bundy. Efron has spent his film career being the charming, handsome heartthrob who people love watching on screen and Ted Bundy was very similar. People were drawn to Bundy whenever they saw his trials on television, even though he murdered several women. There is one big thing that is different between those two though: Bundy murdered people and Efron hasn’t. I really enjoy Efron’s performances in his comedy movies, but I think this is his best role yet. He was mostly charming in the movie because the film didn’t glorify his violent actions, but instead followed a different approach which showed why he was successful in living a double life. When it called for Efron to be controlling and sadistic, he pulled off those moments well.

Another standout in the film was Lily Collins, who had much more screen time than I thought she would and I was happy with that. She was easily convinced that Ted was a decent guy and she showcased a lot of happiness in the early parts of the film. After Ted’s first arrest, she became more hesitant around him and her role became more serious and hard to watch. She is having a great run lately with this film and she is starring in Tolkien. Way to go Lily Collins!

I was honestly expecting a film to show all of the brutal murders that happened mixed with Ted’s life with Liz, but the approach to have the film told from Liz’s perspective was a smart choice because the film didn’t end up feeling like something I have seen before. As I was watching the film, I felt like I was viewing the trial on television. I got to see the charming side of Ted Bundy and I even questioned if he was innocent or not.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was a surprising film that was carried by its acting and its fresh approach. By not showing the violent murders, we got to see why many people thought Ted Bundy was charming and manipulative. It was an approach I wasn’t expecting and it paid off. Many people thought they would be getting something different, but if you can look at this film from the angle they were aiming for, you just may end up liking it.

Read more of Justin's reviews at

The Last Summer review

© Netflix

 The most popular young stars assemble for Netflix’s The Last Summer

by Justin Moore

Imagine a movie where all the current young stars from The CW, Freeform, and other Netflix movies gathered in a place to play high school students getting ready for college. This is that movie. The Last Summer is essentially the Netflix version of American Pie. I don’t stay up to date with all of the current teen shows and movies. I have watched a few of them over the last few months, like The Perfect Date that came out last month, but I don’t watch Riverdale or Good Trouble, which stars actors and actresses from this movie. The Last Summer boasts a large cast of current young stars that People magazine may consider 'top actors and actresses to keep an eye on'. There isn’t one main storyline, instead The Last Summer consists of many different storylines of teenagers during their last summer before college trying to get a job, hook up, film a movie, and just enjoy themselves. The Netflix original film stars K.J Apa (Riverdale), Halston Sage (The Orville, Before I Fall), Jacob Latimore (Maze Runner), Maia Mitchell (The Fosters, Good Trouble) and Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf).

I felt as though The Last Summer was a watered-down version of America Pie. American Pie was raunchy and heartfelt at times, but The Last Summer tries too hard to be relatable and humorous, which came off as forced at times. With many different groups of people featured in a storyline in the film, it is hard to connect to one certain group of friends. My favorite part of the movie involved Halston Sage’s character, who recently broke up with her boyfriend of two years before they headed off to college. She attended a Chicago Cubs game with her friend and a foul ball knocked over her food on her dress and she was asked by the player who fielded the play out on a date. One reason I loved their storyline so much was the fact that it gave a look at Wrigley Field, where I have always wanted to go, but it also gave insight on a player’s life and how they are just like regular people. Tyler Posey plays the baseball player, Ricky Santos, and he connects immediately with Sage, and I enjoyed watching their relationship grow.

The Last Summer tried to balance too many genres at once. At times it wanted to be funny and raunchy, but right afterwards it tried to emotional and relatable. At times the humor worked and at times it was relatable, but they never meshed well together. I had a hard time judging what the movie was trying to aim at in the beginning since no group seemed to be the main part of the film and often they would introduce humor, which made me think it was a comedy, but then it tried to get deep and emotional, which made me believe it was a drama. In the end, I still didn’t know.

For a first-time introduction to many of these young stars, I thought the acting was decent. Most of these stars are older than high school students, but they were believable as teenagers with first world problems like seeing their ex-boyfriend with someone else and being upset when the end of the relationship was mutual and they came to an agreement that they could date other people. Truly heartbreaking!

I didn’t mind The Last Summer but I thought it tried too hard at times to be fun as well as relatable. This is like the Avengers of teen movies. All of the upcoming and rising stars are all together in one film, ready to assemble the perfect teen movie, but they ended up failing.

Read more of Justin's reviews at

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Agents of SHIELD: SHIELD looks for their window of opportunity

Agents of SHIELD S06E02: 'Window of Opportunity'
May is back and ready for action!

by Brandon Coulson

Okay guys I am back on board!

A recurring theme with SHIELD that seems to happen at least twice a season is the inevitably disappointing episodes that make me think the series is burned out, that it's time to hang up the old hat and call it quits. Luckily this is usually followed by an episode with such amazing sequences that all those feelings instantly evaporate.

‘Window of Opportunity’ was the latter and it felt like old SHIELD again, back before they changed stunt coordinators. For one thing, Sarge / Bad Phil actually did come off as a badass this week. I got kind of a Terminator vibe from him going into the convenience store with his shades and strapped for trouble. Some of his smaller details really helped me cement who his character is, from his line about a world’s currency telling you a lot to his repeated speech about not being a hero. It came across a little No Country for Old Men but I read something else there too. This guy has seen and done a lot of bad stuff but I feel this wall or facade up in front of him.

Much like how he reacts later to hearing the name Coulson, it’s hard to read exactly what he’s feeling but I get the sense he’s a bastard out of necessity rather than desire. The layers of emotion playing out over his face said nothing while saying a lot. It was very impressive.

My single biggest problem with the episode came from Sarge’s mobile base, a giant semi truck … that turns invisible! Okay, I get the want to be mobile and not be seen, but I think any normal intelligent person can see the problem with a giant eighteen wheeler speeding down the highway with no drivers able to see it? Or even when it was parked at a junkyard? If we don’t get at least one shot of some poor soul smashing their car right into that thing then not only is it a wasted opportunity for a little levity it also is completely unbelievable. Oh and May found it because she noticed GIANT FRICKING TRACKS!! Though May stealing the old Last Crusade 'throwing dirt to show the invisible thing' trick was a nice touch I still kept thinking, 'Man they must get run into literally all the time on every world they go to.' Okay, rant over.

Fitz’s storyline was … decent let’s say but I don’t really need him to be 'mister lets sacrifice ourselves for the greater good' guy every week. I know most will say he’s overcompensating for his old VR Nazi days but let’s move on and have him do something other than be the moral compass of the universe. I did like the way he negotiated and plotted his way through the situation. I saw the airlock twist coming a mile away, reversing it so his airlock was safe and his potential slaver got sucked out was smart. It also was the same twist from Superman II, a film I adore so I kept waiting (unsuccessfully) for someone to start saying Luthor’s lines about reversing the doors. It was a clever bit though not completely thought out as Enoch points out the crew would be court-martialed for killing the captain, so while Fitz saved their lives (after putting them in danger to begin with) they will now have to live on a foreign planet and basically hide forever ... not the greatest outcome.


Hands down the best part of the episode belonged to May. Ming-na Wen looks to have healed from last year's injury and was back to kicking ass. The entire jewelry store sequence was just fantastic. From Sarge’s side, the initial confrontation with the store employee was tense. The reveal that they wanted junk crystals rather than jewels felt a bit 80s tongue-in-cheek to me but that’s fine. Hopefully they realize those things are cheap garbage and no killing is required.

The portal tech used in the vault looked great. I’m sure the effect was as simple as building two sets next to each other but the implementation was superb and the use of the portal, flipping it on the floor and against a wall was as great here as in the Portal games from which it is obviously, let’s say, borrowed. The camera moves, the acting, May just kicking the crap out of everyone, it all worked here so well. I cannot wait to see more of this kind of set piece as the season goes on.

The episode also flatly stated that Sarge is a genetic match for our Phil so we can assume multiverse alternate reality type stuff is about to arise. Maybe this will explain the lack of connection the the greater MCU, though I’m not holding my breath. We also saw Sarge’s crew recorded on another world that seemed to be destroyed. While the implication is that they did it, I’m betting that we find his group is trying to outrun something that is the actual cause and that will be the big twist -- they aren’t evil but just trying to survive by world hopping.

And just to take a big old swing at the cause, let’s say that the world destroying force is another worlds version of Quake. Back-up predictions are alternate Talbot or Ruby from last year in full blown 'Destroyer of Worlds' mode. Again probably completely wrong but If I nailed it the bragging will be mighty come end of season.

All I know for sure is SHIELD proved to me they still have it. Whether they can keep it up or not is yet to be seen but I do think we realized here just how much May’s action sequences add to this series. Lets keep this big implausible semi rolling!
Read more of Brandon's reviews at

Purchase episode of Agents of SHIELD from the retailers below and
help support HOTCHKA! Click on the image to visit each retailer.
Any purchase made through these links will help support our sites.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Leola preaches love in her Lady Land! Sermons

© Ron Glow

Move over, Dame Edna, there’s a new gurl In town!

by Stephen Mosher

There are some performers, some artists, some stars so larger than life, so original, so indelible as to require only one name. Cher. Halston. Madonna. Picasso. Liza. Prince. 


Leola is one of the artists in residence at Manhattan’s prestigious The Green Room 42, inside the Yotel on 42nd Street.  Another is Frances Ruffelle, Tony Award winner for the original production of Les MisĂ©rables, so these ladies are in great company. The Green Room 42 is ostensibly a cabaret room but Lady Land! Is an award winning solo play created by Will Nolan. In as much as Barry Humphries is the man who discovered Dame Edna, Will Nolan is the man who discovered Leola, a 72 year old redneck who came out late in life, leaving Gus, her husband of 42 years, to find her true self with a little help from her two greatest inspirations, Jesus and Kelly Clarkson. Leola came into the light during Nolan’s sketch comedy days, when he was working with a troupe called Naked Dog Walking. Now and then the newly gay septuagenarian would make an appearance in the comedy shows but as her popularity grew, Mr. Nolan realized that this force of nature he had created was on a path all her own, until Lady Land became a one-person play he was performing all over New York and New Jersey.  The demand for Leola grew and the duo found themselves as far west as Portland, Oregon and then smack dab in God’s country at the Greensboro Fringe Festival and the Atlanta Fringe Festival. For two years in a row the Flying Solo Festival in New York named Lady Land the best of the festival. That’s when The Green Room came a calling. They asked Leola to bring Lady Land to their theater for a sit down and she said Sweet Baby Jesus, Yes!

The show Lady Land is a series of six new healing sermons from Leola, so every time she sets foot on stage the audience is exposed to a brand new play.  In these plays Leola shares, to hilarious effect, the experience of discovering her sexuality at an age of advanced glamor.  She discusses her best friend and ex-husband Gus and their careers working at the Piggly Wiggly (she as manager of the deli and he as aisle clean up).  Leola preaches the importance of love, of following one’s bliss and of being a follower of Sister Kelly Clarkson.  She proudly announces that she is a redneck, that she is a LESBIAN (!) and that everyone can benefit from some group therapy in a cabaret theater.  AND at each performance one lucky audience member takes home a gently used lipstick!  These healing sermons have different themes seen through the framework of Leola’s Jesus loving life and voyage of self-discovery.    On February 1 I saw Lady Land!  (The Coming Out Origin Cabaret of a Jesus-Loving, Senior Citizen Redneck Lesbian Diva!).  On April 11 audiences were treated to Deeper Into Lady Land! (Or The Gospel According to Kelly Clarkson!).  For NYC Pride on June 13 I will be there for Hooray For Lady Land! (Gay History For Straight People!) On September 12 I will be front and center for Grab Me By The Lady Land! (Putting the #Me In #Metoo!).  October 24th will find folks enjoying Throw Mama From My Lady Land! (Shakin’ Off The Haters!).  And what is the holiday season without the December 5th presentation of Christmas In Lady Land!

I’ve been watching Leola come into her own for a few years and I can honestly say that I try to make every show she does. What Mr. Nolan has done here is to take drag in a direction that is unique, that is new, that is his own. A lot of people have been sold a bill of goods that drag is about being superficial and nasty. There are a lot of drag artists out there whom I admire who make beauty and happiness, and I love them. But the creation of this wonderful woman spreading love, joy and a message that we should live our best lives, being authentic to ourselves seems to be especially welcome at this time in our lives. There’s a lot of unhappiness in the world right now, in this country right now. Gay people and women are fighting to keep our rights and Leola is a gay person and a woman, telling us that we can continue to be who we are and live how we like. And that is a heck of an important message to hear, and one that makes us happy. I know I’m not alone in this estimation because every single time I sit in the audience of a Leola show I am treated to waves of positive energy, I am given the gift of looking at the grinning faces of strangers being bonded together by art, comedy, laughter and love. I am awed by Leola’s ability to fill a not particularly small cabaret theater with a drag act that is neither glamorous nor bitchy but that is hilarious, timely, touching and poignant. Leola’s connection to her audience (whom she refers to as disciples) is a strong and beautiful bond, the kind inspired by the great one-named icons and legends.  One of those disciples, in fact, declared her to be 'Dame Edna’s hillbilly cousin giving a Ted Talk.'

Now, in this day and age, what could be better?

Lady Land! runs about 75 minutes with no intermission. Find the list of scheduled performances at the Green Room 42 website and follow Leola on Instagram @leolasladyland.

Read more of Stephen's reviews at

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Melissa Mahoney is a Robot is out of this world

Melissa Mahoney
Hilarity and humanity rule this one robot performance piece.
by Stephen Mosher

The art of doing a Solo Show takes a special person To imagine, invent, write, create, perform all by yourself is to really put it out there, to expose your most vulnerable place as an artist. To go out on that limb takes extreme bravery.  Sometimes it pays off for the audience and for the artist and other times everyone who shows up on the night in question hears the painful strains of crickets chirping in the twilight of the night, somewhere in an Iowa cornfield.

No such crickets sounded the alarm when the audience at Dixon Place in New York City was treated to Melissa Mahoney Is A Robot on April 27th. The sounds that filled the venue known for taking a chance on unknown artists, experimental pieces and theatre with a vision went beyond laughter and screams of glee, though. At times certain audience members were heard to sigh a sympathetic 'aaaaaah!' as the Robot struggled to find happiness on a new planet. Other times watchers were heard to utter familiar dialogue or sing well-known tunes along with the Robot. And even once or twice there was the sound of a sniffle as empathy moved people of emotional elevation to respond to a character whose native language was one we did not even understand. All communications between the earthlings at Dixon Place and the titular character in Melissa Mahoney Is A Robot were visceral and relied on us understanding her and relating to her, even as she spoke a gibberish language we did not know ... except when she was using quotes from famous movies and songs, which also had great meaning to her willingly captive audience because those quotes and that music are old friends to us and we can always hear them. Especially when so brilliantly presented.

Melissa Mahoney Is A Robot is the eponymous creation of New York actress and Atlantic Theater Acting Instructor Melissa Mahoney. She is listed as the writer, director, choreographer, sound designer and performer for the piece but she is not alone up there. The play begins with an omnipotent voice (performed and digitally manipulated by Mahoney, then executed with genius technical timing by co-director Dan Tracy) that sets up the story but breaks down into an extremely frank and personal one-sided chat with the audience until the Robot is finally brought onto the stage, to the delight of that audience, one echoing with peals of laughter for the sixty-minute solo play.

The story of the play is simple. The Robot lives on another planet, a planet of drones who awaken each day and go to work. This Robot, though, is no typical drone. She has a great deal of personality and so, it seems, do the colleagues that she encounters upon leaving her home, all roles embodied perfectly by Miss Mahoney. Upon waking, we see the Robot get ready for work, go to work, communicate with colleagues and go about the monotony of the day (perfectly illustrated by Miss Mahoney through the use of onstage physicality, astonishingly dexterous vocal sounds that rise to the level of special effects, carefully hidden props and deft mime). This is the kind of performance art that might leave some members of the audience scratching their heads or shifting in their seats but the night I saw the play I looked around me to see a group of fifty or so people transfixed, laughing and listening. Indeed, we were the drones and Miss Mahoney was our Queen, dare I even say Borg Queen. Yes, I think I may.

The Robot is assigned an important task that will take her, via spaceship, to Earth. The rocket trip is a hilarious bit of mime, particularly when the spaceship crash lands, stranding the Robot forever on the third rock from the sun. In her exasperated attempts to find a way back home, the Robot finds an iPhone and a laptop and through these devices discovers pop culture and the music and movies of Earthlings. What follows is an Olympic event in lip-syncing and impressions, one which had the audience howling with laughter and applauding every few seconds. It was a remarkable feat that left me asking myself where actors like this powerhouse of a woman get it from? Where, I wondered, did Melissa Mahoney learn to impersonate so many famous people? How many hours did it take to perfect her lip syncing of these incredibly famous bits of movie dialogue and pop music? What place inside of her head gave birth to the Robot? And where is the well of energy that it takes for her to put forth the energy and commitment that overwhelmed the audience that was privileged to witness this incredible work of art?

I’ll tell you something honestly. I’m not really a performance art person. I’m not always apt to enjoy something that is off the theatrical beaten path. Experimental theatre and solo shows tend to be lost on me, as I prefer linear theatre with a proscenium arch. I don’t do wacky, I don’t do wild, I don’t do oddball. And Melissa Mahoney Is A Robot is wacky, wild and oddball. It is also wonderful, exciting, entertaining and human. I related to the Robot. I wished well on her. I wanted her to get what she wanted. I wanted her to keep on going so that I could fall more in love with her. The Robot is one of the most inventive and hilarious, personable and human creations I’ve seen in a while. If she were stranded on Earth and found her way into Midtown Manhattan I would offer her my guest room, and nobody gets the guest room, not even my son. The play Melissa Mahoney Is A Robot cannot be defined as one genre of theatre. It is equal parts play, performance art, dance, sketch comedy, clownery and self-help because after all of the entertainment that Melissa Mahoney pulls from what must be the deepest place of her being, there is a message that urges we can all find our place in the world, in any world, in any universe. Even a gibberish speaking, movie quoting, moonwalking Robot.

This evening of theatre was a one-off. It is not currently set to play another space in 2019. I am hoping that that will change because I think that people everywhere will enjoy this play that has been produced twice before, once at The Tank in NYC and once at The Pit for the Solocom Festival. I think if there are solo performance festivals, one-person play festivals and any other kinds of series where artists gather to perform the shows where they stand in that most vulnerable and lonely place, center stage alone, Melissa Mahoney Is a Robot should be featured on the bill. It is that surprising, that original, that enjoyable. Anyone interested in keeping an eye out for future performance of Melissa Mahoney Is A Robot can follow Miss Mahoney on Instagram or her official website.

As the sated audience was departing the seating arena, I heard somebody say, 'She’s a 21st Century Carol Burnett.'

I can wholeheartedly validate that endorsement.

Read more of Stephen's reviews at

Agents of SHIELD’s premiere is missing pieces


 Agents of SHIELD S06E01: 'Missing Pieces'

Don’t worry about 'Endgame' spoilers! There isn’t a one!

by Brandon Coulson

Agents of SHIELD has finally returned. After nearly a year since the last new episode, it’s felt like a lifetime and there was certainly a lot to unpack.

First off though before we get to everything that DID happen, let's address something that they most certainly did not: Endgame. That’s right, Marvel is owning this summer, this year, and nearly every box office record imaginable yet they decided to completely sever any ties to the greater MCU from this series. Without spoiling Endgame it can be said that nothing that happened in that or last years Infinity War have any repercussions, or even a mention in SHIELD.

After years of fans complaining about the one-sided shared universe, it seems the whole idea has just been given up, especially ironic considering Coulson’s featured role in Captain Marvel. Now I’ve heard many theories saying this is a pocket dimension or altered timeline as a result of last year's time travel shenanigans but regardless of that and barring any unseen explanations coming down the line it seems that Agents of SHIELD is officially annexed from the MCU. Personally, as someone who has invested a ton of hours into all of this content of the MCU shared universe, having them completely drop it is like a slap in the face.

Moving on from that though, how was this season’s premiere? It was decent, there were some interesting moments, but I have to say compared to previous season openers I wasn’t over the moon this time round.

The episode, 'Missing Pieces', started strong, with Fitz’s ship getting sliced in half by an unknown armada and jumping a year later where we find Gemma, Quake, and you know, those two agents whose names you hear and immediately forget, Davis and Piper, all searching deep space for Fitz.

It became very clear what the forward thrusts of our two storylines will be for at least the first half of the season. One side is the search for Fitz and a struggle between Gemma who acted selfishly to an extreme, and Daisy/Quake who has become a feared violent force in space. Back on Earth we see Mack adjusting to being in charge post-Coulson and dealing with a new threat to Earth. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Focusing on our space story for now, I will say I didn’t like a lot of what Quake and Gemma did but I appreciate the drama it’s setting up for later this season. Quake was a total badass, vibrating guns apart and just mopping the floor with her opponents, while Gemma took a page from Fitz’s book. During the interrogation scene she came across very Nazi-esque much like Fitz was in the Hydra world sim.

We got hints that Quake has done some atrocious things while in space which I’m sure will be explored more later but I hope they don’t try and make Quake into a monster. After the fear of her destroying Earth last season, we don’t need another 'Is Quake evil?' plotline. Gemma was frustratingly self-involved this week, after her team had been searching space for a year only to find Fitz’s ship destroyed and his hibernation pod empty. Gemma leaps at a thin and frankly stupid idea that he must’ve seen the manufacturer’s label inside the pod and surely went to that world, in much deeper space mind you. During her scene inside the pod I thought for sure her breath on the glass was going to reveal a message Fitz left or something to that effect, an intentional message he would leave for anyone looking for him. Instead we get this gut feeling theory and after being confronted by some kind of Space Confederacy, Gemma makes the decision to jump to deep space in a half busted, and low on fuel ship. Dragging the others along to a possible bad end, even after they point out Davis has a wife and kid he hasn’t seen in a year. So right now Team Space has me very irritated.


Back home we find out a lot has changed. Mack and Yoyo have split, Yoyo is already seeing another agent which feels like just a setup for her and Mack to get back together. There are portals opening around Earth letting in some Mad Max looking guys to do who knows what, including the 'not a surprise because he was in the trailers' evil Phil Coulson. Or at least a guy who looks like him.

Seeing how they made such a big thing about Phil is really dead and upcoming previews show him not recognizing the name Coulson, I’m putting my money on a Skrull impersonation. In fact any alien or Inhuman face stealer is preferable to any sort of clone/alternate timeline versions of a doppelgänger story. I want Phil to really be dead and this guy to be something or someone else entirely.

Also while the freaky girl who is with these mysterious villains was creepy as hell, with her talk of becoming a butterfly and general weirdness, it was really hard for me to see Clark Gregg as a badass. I mean he did a decent job of being a cold hardass but I just kept thinking he seemed out of place. Even when he shoots a SHIELD agent in cold blood it felt like they were trying to sell his evilness too hard.

Another moment that felt like it was trying too hard was the new recruit to the team, a drunken professor. Mack and May have plans, which I like, to start a new SHIELD academy. To do so they approach a professor who May’s ex knew and the actor himself feels like a good addition to the mix. Older, kinda grumpy but in a funny way, it's a good juxtaposition to everyone else. But we all have seen the genius who drinks too much and is self destructive before. Add to that they made sure to let us know he lost his male partner and that’s part of why he’s so bitter.

It just felt like they were delivering us his bio rather than introducing his character. Like a hat on a hat it was just so many traits given in I want to say four lines of dialog. From here on out let's hope he gets to grow and develop a little more naturally, maybe give him some students to play off of.         

Even with some of those complaints, the episode as a whole was entertaining, had some good action, and re-established our heroes and where they stand. While by no means a great episode, it was very 'Okay'. I found myself getting burned out last season and I’m hoping this year will help reignite my love for the show again.

Agents of SHIELD airs Fridays at 8:00 PM on ABC.

What did you think of the season premiere? Tell us in the comments section below!

Read more of Brandon's reviews at