LOS ANGELES WOMEN’S THEATRE FESTIVAL Theatre Review
Spring is here and so is the annual Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival, which kicked off its 20th anniversary Emerald celebration with a champagne reception, awards ceremony and performances on March 21 at LA Gay & Lesbian Center. Actor Danny Glover of the Lethal Weapon movies and much more and actress Hattie Winston of the Becker TV series co-hosted the gala for this fete that shines the spotlight on solo performances by females in front of the footlights. In addition to highlighting the female of the species, LAWTF shines a much deserved light on multi-cultural women who are often overlooked by the majority male dominated culture.
The two pieces presented at the LAWTF launch are prime examples of the one-man — uh, or rather — one-woman show. Inside the Center’s spacious Renberg Theatre veteran actress and beauty queen Lee Meriwether incarnated a series of completely different women in her abbreviated presentation of a series of vignettes based on Edgar Lee Masters’ free-form poems in the Spoon River Anthology. Each character seemed to be depicted by a different actress, but no, every single Spoon River woman onstage was indeed expertly portrayed by the same thespian and former Miss America, as Ms. Meriwether demonstrated a whirlwind of versatility in doing so.
In Freda Sings Lena and Ella accomplished actress and singer Freda Payne assumed the personas of vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and then Lena Horne, performing some of their better and lesser known numbers, accompanied on the keyboards by Eric Butler. The act included Payne bantering in character in between songs, providing intimate glimpses into the souls of those ladies who had sung the blues and much more.
Co-hosts Glover and Winston gave LAWTF’s awards to five outstanding women who have contributed to the performing arts. Choreographer/ dancer Dulce Capdocia received the Integrity Award. Hoofer Heidi Duckler was given the Maverick Award. The Rainbow Award for fostering multi-cultural theatre went to actress Lissa Reynolds, Managing and Co-Artistic Director of Fremont Centre Theatre (Iona Morris, who’d starred in the drama Holding On – Letting Go at the Fremont was in the aud). To honor her long stage and screen career thespian Starletta DuPois was awarded the Eternity Award. In presenting this lifetime achievement accolade to his former co-star, co-host Glover quipped, “Eat your eggs, Walter Lee,” referring to a line DuPois had said to him in a theatrical production of A Raisin in the Sun.
All of the honorees delivered acceptance speeches, except for the late Lupe Ontiveros, posthumous recipient of the Infinity Award for exceptional achievements of a theatre talent. One of her sons received the award and spoke movingly on his mother’s behalf. Throughout the ceremony and performances co-host Glover was in fine form, and despite having flown in from the East Coast specifically for the occasion seemed to be immensely enjoying himself. LAWTF co-founder and President Adilah Barnes, looking sharp in a purple beret, was also in fine fettle as she joined her co-founder and board members on the boards to celebrate Festival’s Emerald Anniversary, making it the longest running annual solo festival geared for women in L.A.
LAWTF runs through March 27, when for one night only the Festival relocates from the Renberg Theatre to the Ivy Substation in Culver City, the Actors’ Gang’s usual lair. Some highlights include: Kim Coles presents an autobiographical chronicle of her life in show biz, Oh, But Wait, There’s More! Sandy Brown’s Oh, Yes She Did! wherein the comedian/actress portrays outstanding women of conscience and consciousness. In Sunday sessions devoted to the male of the thespian species, actor Roger Guenveur Smith (Do the Right Thing) depicts the abolitionist in Frederick Douglass Now. Mzuri Moyo brings another iconic activist alive in The Fannie Lou Hamer Story. LAWTF appropriately takes place during Women’s History Month, and in addition to great performances offers a number of relevant panels and workshops.An annual theatre highlight in L.A.’s stage scene, I’ve covered this Festival for a number of years. My favorite one-woman show remains Saria Idana’s bravura performance in her Homeless in Homeland, which boldly tackled the thorny if topical topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the 2011 LAWTF. Here’s hoping for at least another 200 years for LAWTF.
The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival is at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, 1125 McCadden Place, Hollywood, CA, 90038 through March 24. LAWF’s final performance is at the Actors’ Gang at the Ivy Substation Theatre, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232, on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 8 p.m. For more info: www.lawtf.com), or: (818)760-0408.
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