Cherry Poppin Play Festival 2009

"What's Happening Around Here"
By Marchelle Hammack

More than ever, I think the zeitgeist is ripe for live theater. Musical Theatre West had close to sold out shows of its recent production “The Producers” and the Rose Theater in Westminster had several sold-out shows with their recent “42nd Street” show.

In challenging times, with people’s priorities realigning, live entertainment makes people feel alive and engaged. And such was the case with Alive Theatre’s Sat. plays of their 2nd annual Cherry Poppin’ Play Festival held at the Queen Mary’s Royal Theatre. My favorite of the two plays on Mar. 8 was “Public Service” written by David Trevor Lawson and directed by Chris Betstone and Matt Scovill.

Turning the tables on an audience expecting passive entertainment, the brilliant team of Scott Lennard (playing Herb) and Andy Cisneros (playing Sampson), portraying community service workers, picked up trash throughout the theater while simultaneously flirting with (Sampson) and glaring at (Herb) the audience. These two have learned their lessons about commitment, relaxation and having fun with the parts they play. At one point the dour Herb called out the audience for being voyeurs and gawkers.

For some in the audience the action became a little too loose and interactive. As the shouts became wilder between audience members (eventually it became clear most of these people were actors from the other productions in the festival), the more a few middle-aged audience members stiffened up and had deer-in-the-headlights faces. (For me this was part of the fun.) But most of the audience loved
the joke. The Enforcers (Tom Cappacella, Ashley Moss and Jackie Scovill) were bumbling keystone cops standing in for conformity and the status quo.

I’ve been reviewing Alive Theatre since their first festival last year and it’s like watching someone grow up. It’s lovely to see them spread their wings and become more entwined with the Long Beach community where they are committed to sharing their creative endeavors.

The first play of the evening was “Squat,” written by Cort Brinkerhoff and directed by Danielle Dauphinee. An ambitious take on the fall-out of the Iraq War on the young people impacted by it, it was introduced by some vamping and singing by Craig Fleming whose gravitas and command may not have served the actors who followed because his presence was so enthralling it made the younger actors seem unsure and unpolished by comparison.

Adam (Jonny J) is a Marine who returns to Oceanside after a tour in Iraq. His wife Chase (Kaitlynn Pennington), a former cheerleader from Bakersfield, has become a heroin addict and prostitute during his absence and has also decimated their savings. Adam unwittingly becomes a client of Chase’s prostitute friend and fellow addict Tawny (Erica Arias). This threesome plays a round robin of jazz-like interactive dialogue with everyone’s self-destructive impulses spiraling down to the lowest possible denominator.

While the actors seemed off-center during the first part of the play, they all eventually found their rhythm and increased their confidence. The demands of this kind of writing require ultimate concentration, teamwork, timing and edge.

As I said, it was very ambitious. But I really think most of us want to laugh these days. Enough with the drama and bad news. We get it in the headlines every day.

So forget the present economic craziness and experience a new take on things with the folks of Alive Theatre. You too may conclude that at least we still have our young people, we still have our spirit, and as shown in “Public Service,” we still have our sense of humor.

Check out some of Alive Theatre’s future offerings at Smooth’s (144 Pine Ave.) Fri. Mar. 13 from 7:30-11 pm. It is live music (Brown & Blue, Insepia and Vast Atlantic). Tickets are $10 and includes free appetizers and prizes, as well as a silent auction.

On Mar. 29 at 5 pm and Apr. 10 at 8 pm, Alive Theatre presents “References to Salvidore Dali Make Me Hot” by Jose Rivera at the Museum of Latin American Art (628 Alamitos Ave.).


"'Squat,' The Alive Theatre, The Cherry Poppin' Play Festival"
By James Scarborough

Can a young married couple cope with, much less survive, the various marital cracks riven by the Second Gulf War?

In “Squat,” a dark drama written by Cort Brinkerhoff, directed by Danielle Dauphinee, and given its world premiere by the Alive Theatre for its second Annual Cherry Poppin’ Play Festival in the Royal Theatre aboard the Queen Mary, the answer’s simple.


It begins like a light-hearted comedy, with something Lucy would confess to Ricky as he returns home from band practice. Chase (Kaitlynn Pennington), tells her husband Adam (Jonny J), a soldier who’s just come back from active duty, that she’s spent the $10,000 nest egg that they earmarked for a down payment on a home (Hmmm, does the title refer to that dingy place in Oceanside they call home?). Why? Because she was lonely. So we think.

Among other things, Adams’s chagrined. He throws Chase out of the house. She asks her new chum Tawny (Erica Arias) if she can spend the night with her. Tawny and Adam do a double take (insert pregnant pause here). Then Adam and Chase make up and make do with make up sex.

The story’s much, much deeper than that.

The story holds our attention with a series of questions that don’t get answered (In short, we don't know Squat).

We don’t know if the escalating psychoses of Chase and Adam are a result of the war, of their separation as a result of the war, of the symptoms of a bad marriage, or if they originated in one or both before they met each other in high school.

Do we ever find out? Go see for yourself.

Dauphinee’s crafted an explosive story that twists and turns like an arabesque that connects the dots on a junkie's arm. A story that rings true and and that right now probably echoes a lot of people’s realities. It’s structured in a series of flashbacks: how Chase met Adam (She a high school cheerleader, he a loner). How Chase met Tawny . How Adam met Tawny ("Buy a girl a drink?").

It’s intercut with some clever dialogue – and good blocking - in which both Chase and Adam simultaneously talk to Tawny from separate locations with Tawny fielding both sets of queries at the same time, often using the same words.

For such an iggy (indie guerilla) production, the acting rocked.

Manic if not post-traumatic stressed at the beginning, Jonny J’s Adam was a road side bomb that blew up at the end.

Pennington’s transformation from a seemingly loving though lonely, needy, erratic wife to a full blown junkie right before our eyes happened so fast, so unexpectedly, that it was frightening.

And Arias was an effective fulcrum on the Chase/Adam teetertotter. Of the three actors, she was the most balanced, which isn’t saying a lot. All business either way, she supplied various demands, played various roles.

Guess who got it in the end?

Performances are 8 PM, Fri.–Sun. Each night features two original plays and a different band (huzzahs to Free Moral Agents). The festival runs until Mar. 8. Tickets are $15. The Royal Theatre aboard the Queen Mary is located at 1126 Queens Highway. For more info call (562) 508-1788 or visit


"Cherry Poppin' Play Festival Review"
By Ellen Griley

The Alive Theatre gang are totally those kids you knew in high school who were constantly being laughed at, not with. You remember: the dorky drama nerds who thought it would be a plumb fantastic idea to bust out a little commedia dell’arte during the lunch hour? (And at whom you laughed a little, too, when everyone else did?) Except now they’re fully-formed attractive men and women—and, what’s more, all that frenetic ambition has found a purpose, and it is to make you laugh. This time, you’re supposed to be laughing at them.

The first giggles in Alive Theatre’s “Cherry Poppin’ Play Festival” come about half a minute into Anthony Cretara and Jasper Oliver’s The Adventure Play—which initially sounds like a porno set to “The Great Gig in the Sky,” all heavy breathing and excessive noise—courtesy of our clownish, “pre-pubescent plague-ridden serf” from the 14th century, Zozza, masterfully played by Jessica Culaciati. (And really, an entire column could be written just about her flawless body movement, as well as that of her supporting cast.) What comes next makes no sense on paper—or even as it unfolds before you—but there is tremendous joy to be found among the fart jokes, Beatles lyrics, Beyoncé references, men in rabbit suits, fairies with stringed instruments and other assorted absurdity (including a man popping out from inside another man’s head in a fantastic fit of blood splatter; “You have a big head!” is the punch line, naturally).

One of two new plays that can be seen on Friday night (the other being Under the Great Boobie Hatch; four additional new plays are split over Saturday and Sunday), Adventure leaves you at once bemused and excited. Maybe this whole time the joke’s been on us.


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