By Pat Launer
Whatta week of theater, Dios Mio!
I saw Intimate Apparel on Antony and Cleo
When, As You Like It, they took their pleasure,
(Mixed with pain, Measure for Measure).
They were the stars, the gifted, The Chosen…
Now — like the Convention — they’re decomposin’.
Whew! A six-play week, embracing race, politics, religion and 3 Shakespeares. Life is good — in the theater!
Chaim Potok’s novel, “The Chosen” (1967) is the kind of book, like his later one, “My Name is Asher Lev,” that you read and never forget. Scenes stay with you. And words of wisdom inspire you.
It’s a coming-of-age story, and a touching tale of fathers and sons. It’s rich with characters and history, set in Willamsburgh, Brooklyn in the 1940s, straddling two crucial events for the Jewish community: the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. Compressing this sprawling story into a 2-hour play was a mammoth undertaking, but Potok, collaborating with playwright Aaron Posner, accomplished the near-impossible. The piece premiered in 1999, only three years before the author’s death. It won, among other accolades, Philadelphia’s Barrymore Award as Best New Play. Structured very differently from the linear, chronological novel, the play is a memory piece, featuring a narrator center-stage (always a tricky, often thankless job) recalling a seminal period of his past.
It all began on the baseball field. Reuven Malter was the pitcher; Danny Saunders was at bat. They stared each other down like demons. They came from opposite sides of the fence, the world — relatively speaking. It may seem like a narrow distinction; both are Orthodox Jews… but Danny is an ultra-traditional Hasid and Reuven’s family is modern and progressive. Their fathers, both Talmudic scholars, are diametrically opposed — especially on the subject of Israel. But they’re also different types — Reuven’s Dad is communicative and encouraging. But Reb Saunders, the spiritual leader of his people, the latest link in a dynasty of Tzadiks (righteous men), is taciturn, silent. The only time he talks to Danny is when they’re studying Talmud together, hashing out the fine details of the Jewish laws of living.
So here are these two young boys, facing off on the diamond, with blood in their eyes. And sure enough, one of them winds up in the hospital. This initiates and forges a lifelong and life-changing friendship. As the boys, both wildly intelligent and inquisitive, mature into adolescence, they deal with alienation and illness, philosophical rants, even the forced discontinuation of their relationship.
You don’t have to be Jewish to love this story. When each of the fathers ultimately embraces his son, there are sniffles all over the North Coast Repertory Theatre. But the play goes beyond just a family saga or a cautionary tale about parental detachment and unrealistic expectations. It’s about openness and not pre-judging people. It’s about embracing new ideas and making the right choices for your own life — despite what your parents want. And it’s about the defense and danger of religious dogma and rigidity. And pitting the strictures of Law against the suppleness of the human heart.
This is director David Ellenstein’s fifth production of the play. He’s obviously steeped in the significance of its messages and its emotional impact. It’s a thrill for local audiences to share a piece of his passion. The production he’s created here is magnificent, incandescent. And his ensemble is spectacular.
Ralph Elias plays the older Reuven (and, quite flexibly and comically, a number of other characters) with engaging wit and wisdom. Tom Zohar infuses young Reuven with an endearing geekiness. Amazingly, this is Zohar’s professional debut; he’s a student at Palomar College, but has only been involved in theater for about a year. He started as a music major and recently composed a musical at school. He has a charming presence (onstage and off); we should be seeing a lot more of him in the months and years to come.
As his father, the gentle, compassionate David Malter, Craig Huisenga brings a kindhearted humanity that is elevated to fiery enthusiasm when he gets on the subject of Israel (he’s vehemently in favor; the Rebbe is equally fervently opposed).
Reprising their roles as the Saunders père et fils are Christopher M. Williams, who hails from Phoenix, and that multi-talented Angeleno, Robert Grossman (recently so hilarious as the Italian Mafia Don in “Breaking Legs” at North Coast Rep). Williams has a dark, brooding intensity that is perfect for the deep, pained and conflicted Danny. Grossman is a wonder, thoroughly credible as a sage, a great thinker and a mystical, spiritual leader. He is incredibly charismatic; even, at times, other-worldly. It’s a glorious, but not showy, performance. This ensemble functions like a family — bonded and loving, even in the midst of discord and disagreement.
Marty Burnett has designed a set that’s both down-to-earth and ethereal. At opposite sides of the stage are the desks and offices of the two scholars. But between them, there’s a misty projection of the Brooklyn Bridge, the primary pathway out of this tight little religious enclave. Steve Shapiro’s sound design resonates with just the right mix of noise, music and silence. M. Scott Grabau keeps the lighting dim and delicate. Jeanne Reith, as always, dresses the cast in perfect period costume.
But the beauty of the play and the production are that this isn’t just dusty history or one man’s musty memoir. Fundamentalism is more pervasive and powerful than ever, and religious crusades are tearing the world apart. People seem hell-bent on judging others by what, rather than who, they are. And three’s little tolerance of differences these days, let alone silence. This play reminds us that we need to stop and listen rather than pontificating. And most of all, communicate. If ever there was a time we needed to hear what this story has to say, this is the time. North Coast Rep is the place. And don’t forget to bring your hankie.
THE MEASURE OF A MAN
Some, including the Poor Players, call “Measure for Measure” a comedy. But it’s generally considered to be one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’ which refuse to be neatly classified. Like “The Merchant of Venice,” it introduces moral dilemmas without offering clear-cut or comforting solutions. As in Potok’s “The Chosen,” we are confronted by rigid adherence to Law versus compassion and forgiveness. Justice vs. Mercy. In many ways, “Measure for Measure” parallels “Othello,” where lying is also a dominant theme, and deception is at the root of both redemption and damnation. Here, almost all the characters are seriously flawed, even duplicitous, and blinded by self-deception.
Set in Vienna, the story concerns the good-hearted Duke Vincentio, who purports to leave the city but actually remains, in the guise of a friar, to observe what happens when he passes the governmental reins to the zealous, callous Angelo. Reviving an old statute prohibiting sexual promiscuity, Angelo decides, as his first act in power, to sentence to death a young man named Claudio, whose fiancée is pregnant. When Claudio’s novitiate sister, Isabella, comes to plead for her brother’s life, the uptight Angelo is hopelessly, lustfully smitten. He says she can only save Claudio if Isabella will surrender her body to him. Overhearing Isabella’s report to her brother, the Duke (as Friar) hatches a complex plan to save Claudio’s life and his sister’s virtue, through a series of ingenious subterfuges. At the end, everyone is duly rewarded or punished, justice being tempered with mercy.
In their prior productions, Poor Players have underscored the comedy and used it felicitously to goose the Shakespeare and make it young, hip and relevant. In this case, surprisingly, though the drama is handled quite well, the Players fall short with the comic characters.
The constable Elbow is a kind of refashioned, malaprop-spewing Dogberry from “Much Ado About Nothing.” They even share some gaffes. But Keath Hall’s portrayal is devoid of humor and he swallows many of his best lines. The rake Lucio (Justin Lang) looks terrific, all done up in long hair, extensive tattoos and tight leather pants. At first, he jokes about prostitutes and venereal disease, he can’t carry the comedy either, since his character is a knotty mix of gadfly, go-between, good friend, lecher and liar. So it all rests on the pimp Pompey Bum, who’s played here (by Brandon Walker) as a prancing bisexual who speaks in an unidentifiable, vaguely Nuyorican, accent.
Fortunately, when it comes to the dramatic personae, Poor Players soar. Richard Baird, director (and artistic director) plays Angelo as a hypocritical, tightass cousin to his Malvolio in the recent “Twelfth Night.” His handling of the language, as always, is flawless, bolstered by his deep, rich voice. He nails Angelo’s split personality: the moral rectitude juxtaposed with rapacious, unbridled sexuality. Charlie Riendeau is congenial as the affable (some say conniving) Duke; he rushes through his lines in the first act but grows steadily in stature and finishes with a commanding second half. Tom Haine is, as usual, a total natural onstage, playing the ever-loyal, rational Escalus with understated self-possession. Nick Kennedy does a fine job with Claudio, and Crystal Verdon is persuasive as the saintly Isabella, whose faith may be shaken by the end.
Baird makes the provocative yet satisfying choice of leaving the ending unresolved. Will Isabella leave the convent and accept the Duke’s marriage proposal? The answer is in the eye of the beholder. Similarly, the political relevance remains open to interpretation this election season. It’s left for viewers to decide what applies, as they watch a spectrum of leadership qualities ranging from benevolent to manipulative, duplicitous to hypocritical. Theater’s job, after all, isn’t to provide answers, but to offer questions and options.
Poor Players at Adams Ave. Studio, through September 19.
The Shakespeare Festival at the Globe is starting to wind down…. but you still have plenty of time to bulk up on the Bard.
“Antony and Cleopatra ,“ like “Two Noble Kinsmen,” was directed by Darko Tresnjak, who’s artistic director of the Festival. Fortunately for all of us, the visionary theatermaker will be sticking around for awhile as the Quinn Martin guest artist at UCSD. Next spring he’ll direct Marivaux’s “La Dispute,” an 18th century satirical comedy that answers the eternal, burning question: “Which of the sexes really was the first to prove unfaithful in love?” No need to wait; right now, you can see more of his drop-dead gorgeous stage pictures in “Antony & Cleopatra.”
Antony is the brilliant, war-hardened soldier and magnanimous general. Cleo is the beautiful, fascinating, irresistible Queen of Egypt. He’s supposed to be ruling the eastern third of the Roman Empire, but he’s otherwise obsessed. The death of his wife and the threat of a war with Gen. Pompey summon him home to Rome. For the purposes of peace and distraction, a marriage is arranged for Antony with Octavius Caesar’s widowed sister, Octavia. Cleo seethes. The lovesick Antony returns to her. An unfortunate series of deceptions, delusions, defeats and humiliations results in a double suicide.
Here again, Shakespeare presents moral ambiguities. But he also considers monumental egomania as well as government waste and folly … the type that causes the death of thousands of dutiful soldiers.
All three of the main characters — Antony, Cleopatra and Caesar — should be larger than life. Each commands ‘planetary’ status as a ruler of the world and an instrument of its destiny. But in this production, only one of the three is up to the task. That would be Sara Surrey, regal and imperious as the Egyptian Queen, but also surprisingly adolescent in her capriciousness and jealousy. She looks magnificent in Linda Cho’s stunning costumes, especially in her death scene, where her gilded headpiece and necklace make her sparkle like the sun. Though Dan Snook’s Antony is attractive and manly enough, he lacks the arrogance and nobility of the famous warrior. James Joseph O’Neil’s Caesar seems insubstantial, without the gravitas and majesty of a world leader. As Pompey, Brian Sgambati has the bravado and machismo the others lack (and much more than he demonstrated as one of the ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’). Most decent and dignified of all the characters is Enobarbus, in Greg Thornton’s touching portrayal.
Cho’s costumes, York Kennedy’s lighting and the fine use of Ralph Funicello’s malleable set make for a visual feast, underscored by Christopher Walker’s excellent sound design. The tempestuousness of this Superstar relationship is only evidenced sporadically; when the ferocity of this passion ignites, the stage explodes with energy.
There’s a lot less intensity in “As You Like It,” but there’s a whole lotta love. It’s a classic Shakespearean comedy, replete with familial schisms — two pairs of battling brothers and daughters estranged from their fathers. This establishes a discordant tone at the outset, which is echoed in the order/disorder contrast of stuffy court artifice vs. the unpretentious natural world of the forest of Arden. The requisite sexual disguise (Rosalind transforms herself into the youth, Ganymede) adds humorous conflict throughout. As in most comedies, by the end of the play all wrongs are righted, the disconnected are reunited and every Jack has his Jill.
Despite his airy-light touch, Shakespeare provided ample expression of more serious subjects– love, aging, the natural world and death. “As You Like It” offers diverse world-views, from the melancholy pessimist Jaques to the upbeat, alluring Rosalind, one of the Bard’s most delightful creations, who recognizes life’s difficulties but holds fast to a positive attitude that is kind, witty and wise.
The central couple is Rosalind and her love-besotted Orlando. Katie MacNichol and Daniel Jay Shore have wonderful chemistry together. She’s energetic and enchanting; he’s lovably loopy and believably (not ridiculously) enamored. Their scenes together are electric, the highlights of the production. Gregor Paslawsky is droll as Touchstone, the clever Fool; Jonathan McMurtry is solid as the faithful old servant, Adam; and Rod Brogan is aptly brutish as Charles the Wrestler. Greg Thornton does excellent double-duty as nasty Duke Frederick and nice-guy Duke Senior. As the other wicked sib, Oliver, James Joseph O’Neil has all the command and clout he was lacking as Caesar in “Antony and Cleopatra.” As the gloomy philosopher, Jaques, Charles Janasz delivers his “All the world” speech about the 7 Ages of Man like it was fresh and new, filled with unsullied insights. Beautiful presentation. But he is by no means sullen, depressed or disconsolate; he seems to posses an excess of verve and animation, sometimes at the oddest moments.
The colorfully inconsistent costumes (Lewis Brown) are all over the map, literally — from Italianate ornate to French Revolutionary to British Redcoat to mourning coats and spats. The rough-hewn forest-wear is a lot more coherent — except for that Bo-Peep number on the rustic, Phebe. Karl Fredrik Lundeberg’s music is more simplistic than simple. The scenic design features a good deal of tree-moving — and unnervingly huge snowflakes! But York Kennedy’s lighting makes everything look right.
Unlike the somber, stylized Stephen Wadsworth production at the Globe in 1998, director Karen Carpenter has focused her attention on the lighter side of “As You Like It.” And she seems to have had a fine time of it. Turns out this is her swan song; at the end of the month, she’s moving on to do more directing. Sadly ironic, since this is by far the best work she’s done in her tenure as associate artistic director at the Globe.
Close on the heels of the Convention comes “Convention Celebration,“ New York writer Gerald Zipper’s scathing look behind the political curtain. The play is topical, to be sure, but clearly still a work in progress. It had a staged reading in Denver, and has been roughened up and reshaped a bit for its current 6th @ Penn production, but it still has a long way to go. And a lot more cutting needs to be done.
The premise is fascinating: How is a presidential candidate REALLY chosen? What wheeling and dealing and crossing of palms go on behind the scenes that has nothing whatsoever to do with qualifications, philosophies, platforms or even political leanings? All the players are there: a jaded State Coordinator (John Tessmer, very convincing); a smart, sassy intern (Stephanie Evatt), an overblown Senator (Joe Nesnow) and his controlling, power-mad, oft-inebriated wife (Renee Buchroth). Then there’s the Big Cheese, the generally inarticulate senior statesman, the Boss (in the old, political sense of the word) — the “ultimate power broker,” here called the Old Man (Ed Eigner) who basically calls all the shots — with the translational help of his right-hand henchman (Patrick Hubbard).
The points are well-taken and often well expressed: “How do you convince people you’re doing good for them at the same time you’re sticking it to ’em?” Or, it’s all “too complex for people to understand; we have to synthesize it so people can understand.” And: “Secrecy is part of the currency of politics.” “We’ve had presidents with blown headgear before. You bring the grease; we’ll smooth him out.” “It’s all in the packaging.” “I made you and I can break you.”
Problem is, these are all points being made, and they frequently get in the way of the action. Another problem: despite its (long-winded) brevity, the piece is structurally two different plays. The first act is talky and convoluted, often overly earnest, though humor does sprout up every now and then. The second act takes a sharp turn toward the farcical and tends to undermine what’s gone before. Then it all ends with a death and a Tom Joad speech about values and honesty and “being able to like myself one last time.”
A lot of effort has gone into this production, in the writing and acting and directing (Jack Banning). But, much as we need political messages — of the enlightening, amusing, fanciful or informative kind — this one isn’t sure exactly which tack it’s taking.
Off-nights at 6th @ Penn (Sunday-Wednesday), through September 26.
SEW FAR, SEW GOOD
It was more than worth the trip to L.A. to catch the penultimate weekend of “Intimate Apparel,” brought West from New York by one of my favorite American directors, Daniel Sullivan.
The Pulitzer Prize-nominated finalist was written by Lynn Nottage, whose “Las Meninas” just wowed local audiences (at Cygnet Theatre) and whose “Crumbs from the Table of Joy” was a delight at the Old Globe a few seasons back. Nottage loves to creep into the dark corners of black history.
This time, it’s New York at the turn of the 20th century. Inspired by a few old photos, she created the story of Esther Mills, a seamstress who sews glamorous underthings (‘intimate apparel’) for wealthy white women. She worked her way up from the South, in more ways than one. And she’s been saving to start her own luxury beauty parlor to pamper Negro women. But she’s just turned 35 and she’s still single. When she gets a letter from a worker on the Panama Canal, she’s ecstatic and after a time, the correspondence turns into a marriage proposal. Esther’s interactions with her landlady, her Orthodox Jewish fabric-seller, her white customer and her black hooker-friend, not to mention her Barbadian husband, make for an entrancing and ultimately heartbreaking evening of theater. And a potent commentary on the range of male-female relationships.
Sullivan’s direction is beautiful — sublimely focused, subtle and spare. His cast is impeccable. Viola Davis won a well-deserved armful of awards for her gut-wrenching performance. Each of the other characters is also multi-faceted, sharply etched and utterly fascinating. Lynda Gravátt is the busybody landlady, a sour widow who missed out on love. Arja Breikis is lovely as the neglected white wife who befriends Esther, maintains racial barriers and then irrevocably crosses the line. Lauren Velez is steamy as the piano-playing prostitute who, like all the other women, has had to settle for less than she was capable of. As the Jewish salesman, Corey Stoll is stiff under the constraints of his religion, but his appreciation of Esther’s passion for fabric is palpable. And hunky Russell Hornsby is stomach-churning as the sweet-talking husband from Hell.
The scenic design ( Derek Mclane) is mobile without being fussy or distracting. The lighting and sound are wonderfully evocative, and Catherine Zuber’s costumes (lingerie included) are lovely. There are many unexpected turns in the story, which is so poignant and affecting — and universally appealing — that the show is simply irresistible. At the Mark Taper Forum, through September 12.
IT’S DEFINITELY GONNA BE LOVERLY…
Don’t miss it and regret that You’ll could’ve danced (or at least hummed) all night! Cygnet Theatre is presenting a special staged reading of Lerner and Loewe’s brilliant, beloved “My Fair Lady” as a fall fundraiser…. with an all-star cast. Check out this dream-team: Julie Jacobs, Sean Murray, Jim Chovick, David McBean, Ron Choularten, Rosina Reynolds, Lee Lampard, Andy Collins, Erin Cronican and Bryce Chaddick. Thrill again to the glorious score; delight in the delectable Cinderella story (make that ‘Pygmalion’) of a cockney flowergirl who, on a bet, is turned into a high-class lady. The hugely talented Jacobs played the role last year in Sonora to enthusiastic acclaim. So now, we don’t have to lament our out-of-town loss! Two nights only: September 13 and 14 — 6:30 catered reception/silent auction; 7:30 performance. Tickets are $35 ($30 for subscribers), available at www.cygnettheatre.com or 619-337-1525 ext 3. With a little bit of Luck, we’ll seeya there!
And while we’re on the subject of staged-reading benefits, 6th @ Penn has one coming up, too… a searing drama this time (well-received prior benefits have been “The Women” and “Auntie Mame”). It’s the perfect time for Ibsen’s timeless classic, “An Enemy of the People,” directed by Jack Banning, with dramaturgy by George Flint. Any show that “contrasts the enlightened and persecuted minority with the ignorant, powerful majority” is a very good pursuit indeed during this election season. September 16, 17, and 18 at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $25.00 ((619) 688-9210 or www.sixthatpenn.com
Don’t be late for your Tea with the Bard… Sept. 14 at 12:30. The event, sponsored by the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee (Rancho Bernardo chapter), will feature scenes from local productions of “Macbeth” and “Measure for Measure” (see review, above) and guest speaker Monica Wyatt, Ph.D., who’ll remind us that “Shakespeare is Alive and Well.” So come for some Bardolatry, Elizabethan music, tea and scones. Tix are only $5. Call Pauline Green at 858-673-0883; (email@example.com) for info and reservations.
Got a favorite sonnet? See which one local celebs prefer at the San Diego Shakespeare Society’s 3rd annual Celebration of the Sonnet on Monday, October 4 at 7pm at the Old Globe Theatre. I’m honored to have been asked to MC… and introduce the poets du jour, who’ll include theatermakers Jack Montgomery and TJ Johnson, the Opera’s Nicolas Reveles, word-maven Richard Lederer, City Schools Superintendent Alan Bersin, playwright Stephen Metcalfe and his 13 year-old daughter, Olivia.. and even Queen Elizabeth I. Tix are $15, but there are 100 free to students, through the City and County ARTSPack Program. There’ll be stolling, costumed students and Elizabethan musicians. You won’t want to miss it! Be there, or be Shakes-square.
LOCAL GIRL MAKES GOOD..
Kirsten Brandt, artistic director of Sledgehammer Theatre, has been moving up, and not only locally. Last year, she directed at La Jolla Playhouse (the Page to Stage production of Sarah Schulman’s “The Burning Deck”), then this year, at the Old Globe (wonderful work on “The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow”). Now, she’s getting noticed nationally, too. She appears in the prestigious/humorous final page of the September edition of American Theatre magazine, answering the seminal Twenty Questions. A few of her responses: As a writer, she’s proudest of “Berzerkergang;” as a director, Sledge’s “Macbeth.” And most telling, of course, who she’d invite to her ideal dinner party: Salvador Dali, Stephen Hawking, Vsevolod Meyerhold and Mary Shelley. Privately, I asked what she’d serve this quirkily august assemblage: ” Monkey brain soup followed by steak and kidney pie, of course.” That’s our girl!
WALK THIS WAY…
Let’s go, theater-folk! Join Melissa Supera Fernandes and Manny Fernandes (and John and me and others) at AIDS Walk 2004. Sunday, September 26 in Balboa Park. It’s San Diego’s largest one-day HIV/AIDS fundraiser… and it only costs $25 to be part of the team. Or you can get others to contribute and pay your way. The Walk is really a leisurely stroll (because there are so many people) but it’s great fun… with high energy, entertainment, cheering onlookers and all manner of goings-on. To sign up, go to:
http://www.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=45685 and select the Time Warner Team. If that link doesn’t work, go to www.aidswalksd.org . You know it’s a great cause – and it’s a great day in the Park. Hope to seeya there!
AND NOW, FOR THIS WEEK’S ‘DON’T MISS‘ PRODUCTIONS:
“Intimate Apparel” — gorgeous, award-winning production of Lynn Nottage’s heartbreaking play — direct from Broadway to L.A. If you love theater, good stories and marvelous performances, this is absolutely not to be missed. At the Mark Taper Forum, through September 12.
“The Chosen” — North Coast Repertory Theatre artistic director David Ellenstein has poured his heart and soul into this lovely, touching reworking of Chaim Potok’s acclaimed novel. A marvelous ensemble and a glorious production. At North Coast Rep through October 24.
“Antony and Cleopatra” — The queen rules! In Darko Tresnjak’s beautiful-looking production, neither Antony nor Caesar can hold a candle to the Egyptian monarch… but Enobarbus is up to the task… and the whole is lovely to look at. Outdoors at the Globe, in repertory with “As You Like It” and “Antony and Cleopatra.” Last “A&C” performance October 3.
“As You Like It” — Karen Carpenter’s farewell to the Globe is her best work yet. Light and breezy, adorable if not deep. Outdoors at the Globe, in repertory with “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Two Noble Kinsmen.” Last “As You” performance October 1.
“Two Noble Kinsmen” – director Darko Tresnjak offers us a beautiful production of a less-than-perfect, partly-Shakespearean tragicomedy. Not all the cast is up to the task, but the creative team does stellar work, and even rarely-seen Shakespeare is worth seeing. Outdoors at the Globe, in repertory with “As You Like It” and “Antony and Cleopatra.” Last “Kinsmen” performance Sept. 24.
“Saturday Night at the Palace” — intensely brutal play about South Africa during apartheid. Tautly directed by Claudio Raygoza, with outstanding performances by Paul Araujo, Quardell Scott, and — especially chilling — Andrew Kennedy. Don’t miss it — if you can take it. At 6th @ Penn Theatre, through September 11.
“Las Meninas” — Sean Murray does it again! Gorgeous production, wonderfully designed, acted and directed. Comic but unsettling, a shockingly fact-based historical tale. At Cygnet Theatre, through September 12.
“Art” — a lovely pas de trois from a trio of Lamb’s favorites, in an intelligent, thought-provoking play. At Lamb’s Players Theatre, extended through September 19.
School’s in session; get a little extra-curricular education — at the theater!
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.