Well-known Los Angeles Post reviewer Dan Berkowitz has decided to sit on the other side of the fence. Instead of writing, he will be directing the world premiere of Breathing Room by playwright/composer Mary Lou Newmark. Now, being a friend of Dan’s, I just couldn’t help jumping in with a little Q and A. Dan is a fan of musicals and has directed more than I have seen. So I am sure he will create a great theater experience — not only for his audience, but also for that little theatrical voice that lurks deep inside of him.
Rose: Hey Dan, how are you?
Dan: You really want to know? We’ve just come through a heat wave in LA, and my air-conditioning broke down as it started. As I write this, I’m waiting for a repair guy to show up to give me an estimate. Meanwhile, I’m standing in a pool of my own sweat…
Rose: Gee, sorry bout that. Lets get started. I know you are very selective about what you direct. Why this play?
Dan: Mary Lou invited me to the first reading of the piece two years ago. There were only a couple of us in a room. As Mary Lou played the music and two actors read the script aloud, I found myself imagining what a full production would look like: I could actually “see” some of the things I’d want to do if I were directing it in a theatre, which rarely happens. I remember saying when they’d finished that I thought it was a “mind-blowing” piece – and interestingly, that’s a phrase several other people have used since.
Rose: There is a term in the press release that I would love you to elaborate on. What is technological vertigo?
Dan: As used in Breathing Room, it indicates that feeling of being overwhelmed by all the “stuff” going on around us today in a technological sense. Instead of being able to relax and appreciate the beauty of the natural world, we’ve become fixated on our smartphones, checking them 200 times a day, perceiving the world in 10-second sound bites instead of really listening to each other and trying to understand what people are saying. Mary Lou has created a “production number” in the show using the phrase “modern technologic vertigo,” with the actors racing about the stage – it’s both funny and frightening.
Rose: Oh cool. For me, it means I am in some kind of computer hell. Program malfunction, tech support to the rescue kind of term and…
Dan: Um, my Q and A. Can we get back to that?
Rose: The play is being described as mixed media. What were the hurdles you had to conquer?
Dan: Breathing Room is really more a “performance piece” than a play: while there are, in fact, scenes and characters – and lots of laughs – there’s also music and poetry and ritual and storytelling and dreamlike passages. The most important hurdle, for me, is to give each aspect its proper place and emphasis, using the acting and the lights and the sound and the costumes and the props to create the unique atmosphere of each moment. For instance, when the actors are in a dream sequence, they have to move and speak in a completely different way – and the lights and the sound have to create a completely different feel – than when everyone is playing a comic scene about a bear who likes junk food!
Rose: So Dan, do you think that being a reviewer gives you a better understanding of the stage?
Dan: I think so. Most importantly, I’ve found myself looking at productions with a much more sympathetic perspective. When you know that at least some people will make their decision whether to buy a ticket or not based on what you say, I, at least, feel a responsibility to look at the larger picture. It’s easy to be a smart-ass when you write a review; it’s sometimes difficult to look at a production you may not personally like, but get across that it has value and can be interesting to other people.
Rose: For me, a musical has to inspire me. Do you think the music is inspirational, and how so?
Dan: In my opinion, there are two kinds of “inspirational” music. There’s the kind – there are lots of examples in traditional Broadway musicals – which plays upon your emotions, sometimes getting you teary, sometimes making you joyful. The music in Breathing Room is “inspirational” in the sense that it sets your imagination on fire – it inspires you to see images, colors, moods, feelings. It’s a bit difficult to put into words, but it’s why I used the term “mind-blowing” way back when.
Rose: Now be honest, do you think you will ever be on the stage yourself? I know you can’t sing, but I have seen you act. What do you think?
Dan: Hey – whattya mean I can’t sing?!? I do it in the shower every day! But seriously… I’ll actually be singing on November 7 at Rockwell Table & Stage. My friend Mark Nadler – who’s a major cabaret star in New York – will be returning to LA to do a couple of shows at Rockwell. When Mark lived here in the 90s, he had a weekly show at the Hotel Roosevelt’s Cinegrill, and I was one of his “regular guests” who did a number each week. He’s based in NY now, and when I had drinks with him there recently, he asked if I’d reprise one of my “show-stoppers” for his “Hollywood Hootenanny” at Rockwell on November 7. Needless to say, it’ll be a comedy number… (But don’t worry – I won’t be doing any singing in Breathing Room…)
Rose: Well, you told me! I learn new things about you all the time. Sorry I will miss both shows, but “break a leg” and thanks for your time. Hopefully that air conditioning problem gets solved.
Dan: It better.
Well folks, I think this sounds fantastic. So I say give it a go. Greenway Court is a great venue with a good reputation for presenting satisfying theater.
Performances of Breathing Room take place on Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and on Sundays at 7 p.m., Oct. 3 through Oct. 25.
Tickets are $25 for general admission, with reserved seats available for $35.
The Greenway Court Theatre is located at 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036.
To purchase tickets, call (323) 655-7679 x100 or go to www.greenwaycourttheatre.org/breathing-room/.