Steven Stanley’s StageSceneLA is changing, with exciting new features and an all new look by debuting August 12.

In the meantime, thank you for visiting this temporary site, on which you will find reviews of all currently running productions, as well as some which have closed recently.

Visit the new StageSceneLA starting August 12 and the first thing you’ll find will be all the latest reviews and interviews, beginning with the most recent.

All reviews will now be “tagged,” allowing StageSceneLA readers to make a quick list of each and every “Now Playing” production as well as those tagged with a “WOW!.” You will also be able to find reviews by “genre,” “location,” and other tags. Interviews will be tagged as well, allowing for quick accessing of all StageSceneLA interviews.

A brand new search function will allow readers to find any play or musical by name, as well as any reviews in which a particular actor performed, which a particular director directed, or which a particular designer designed, etc.

The new StageSceneLA will continue to feature complete lists of all StageSceneLA Award winners over the past six years—with our 2010-12 Awards to be announced mid-September. StageSceneLA will no longer feature listings of upcoming and unreviewed productions, the better to concentrate on its forte: Spotlighting The Best In Southern California Theater in its reviews and interviews.

Review archives will be restored gradually—hopefully by the end of September 2011. In the meantime, please feel free to send an email request for a PDF file of any previous StageSceneLA review to

Thanks as always for visiting Steven Stanley’s StageSceneLA: Spotlighting The Best In Southern California Theater. And thanks especially for your patience during this exciting period of transition.

Search This Blog

Saturday, July 16, 2011



It takes particular skill to write a thriller for the stage. Playwrights can’t rely on chase sequences or camera angles or other cinematic tricks as screenwriters can. Their task becomes all the more difficult if the stage thriller they’re writing is to unfold in real time on a single set with only a handful of characters. Add to the above a political theme, and you’ve got a doozy of a writing assignment.

All the more reason to cheer Shem Bitterman’s edge-of-your-seat political thriller A Death In Colombia, now being given its World Premiere engagement by the Katselas Theatre Company.

An opening scene introduces us to our soon-to-be lady in distress, though at first the only distress felt by expatriate Lisa (Roxanne Hart) is in having to entertain her husband John’s idealistic young colleague Natalie (Sarah Foret) in the couple’s elegantly furnished Bogota apartment. The rather more jaded older woman doesn’t particularly take to the effusive praise heaped by Natalie on the Colombian natives, whose poverty is so different from her own upper middle class upbringing. Where the younger woman can’t help gushing about a recent uprising on Cartagena Boulevard, “a Marxist expression of the people’s will,” Lisa is a good deal more cynical about the future of these 2002 Colombian revolutionaries. If they get what they want, might they not choose precisely what Natalie is against?

It soon comes out that John has been incommunicado in the jungle for the past three weeks, causing Lisa to wonder whether the rebels he’s been working with might have put a bullet in his head and dropped him in a ditch. Despite Lisa’s concern, it’s Natalie who seems the more worried of the two, and when she remarks that “he should have called one of us by now,” her casual use of the plural cues Lisa in on the affair her husband has been carrying on with the much younger woman, who has the nerve to defend herself with a sympathetic “You can’t call what you’re in a real marriage.”

Natalie soon departs, leaving Lisa to light up a joint, put on some music, and settle in for another evening alone—or so she thinks until a knock sounds at the door.

It takes a while for Lisa to become convinced that the man outside is really an old friend of John’s from Harvard, and though she grabs a knife just in case this Roger isn’t who he claims to be, the fellow who comes through the door couldn’t seem more harmless. (He is, after all, being played by Joe Regalbuto, the oh-so-likeable Frank Fontana all ten seasons of Murphy Brown.) Though Lisa has no recollection of having met Roger, she offers him some scotch and the use of the sofa for the night. After all, everyone crashes at John and Lisa’s when they’re in Bogota.

In the course of conversation, we learn a bit more about John’s work with the rebels. As Lisa explains to Roger, her husband is convinced that the best way to preserve the rain forests is to fight against the so-called “War On Drugs,” believing that American industrialists and oil companies have their own ulterior motives for waging it.

Still, despite talk of potential kidnappings (and worse), Roger’s visit seems harmless, with perhaps even the promise of a bit of sexual hanky-panky in the offing. Glasses of Johnny Walker keep getting refilled, the twosome share some pot (hers) and some coke (his), music gets turned on, and they dance a bit.

At the same time, there is something about Roger that just doesn’t sit right with Lisa, and not just the that he works for one of those oil companies John is fighting against. When she comes right out and accuses Roger of lying to her (“I don’t believe that John would have a friend like you”), her visitor drops any pretense of affability, and A Death In Colombia: The Thriller begins in earnest.

There’s a good deal more I could reveal in this review, having taken copious notes just in case they might be needed, but to do so would spoil the many surprise plot twists Bitterman has in store for Lisa, and for us (including just whose death it is in the title).

Besides the playwright’s crackerjack dialog and plotting, A Death In Colombia’s World Premiere benefits from an absolutely terrific trio of some of L.A.’s busiest and best actors.

Casting Regalbuto as villain proves a stroke of genius on the part of producer Gary Grossman and director Steve Zuckerman. Without the Murphy Brown vet’s natural likeability, we might find it hard to accept that Lisa would invite this total stranger into her apartment at night. Like Alan Alda, Regalbuto as bad guy makes for a far more interesting ride than we’d get from say a Willem Defoe type, and when he starts getting rough, watch out.

Opposite Regalbuto, a sensational, supremely watchable Hart brings to her role the same intensity and depth she would if she were playing Shakespeare or Williams or Miller. In a performance with as much happening inside as out, the stage, screen, and television vet makes us believe—absolutely—in Lisa’s distress, her ingenuity, and her pluck.

Foret’s role of “sweet young thing” seems at first a throwaway part, onstage for an expository scene and then sent away to dressing room purgatory, but a) the bubbly actress’s talent at hiding her natural effervescence under Natalie’s passionately idealistic skin makes the part far more than a mere supporting turn, and b) playwright Bitterman has a surprise up his sleeve, one which gives Foret the chance to show off real dramatic chops.

Working with composer Roger Bellon’s suspenseful background score (its Andean flutes are a particularly nice touch), director Zuckerman keeps the tension high from start to finish. Scenic designer Jeff McLaughlin’s Death In Colombia set is every bit as elegant as his Bakersfield Mist set is deliberately tacky, and this time it’s McLaughlin himself who lights it in gorgeously burnished hues. Kudos to Christopher Moscatiello for his top-drawer sound design, and to fight director Steve Ranking for a particularly believable (and scary) tussle or two. Adam Rotenberg is associate producer and Christopher Hoffman production stage manager.

There aren’t all that many stage thrillers that really work. Dial M For Murder, Death Trap, and Wait Until Dark come to mind. Fans of the genre will want to check out A Death In Colombia, a high tension cat-and-mouse game that bears comparison with the abovementioned suspense classics, with bonus points for its fascinating political backdrop.

Kastelas Theatre Company, The Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.
--Steven Stanley
July 3, 2011
Photos: Ed Krieger