Tag Archives: Advanced Chemistry

That’s what friends are for

Friends Janet Arnold and Ed Asner perform a reading of "Advanced Chemistry" to benefit Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Like many arts organizations, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company has faced financial challenges in recent years. But executive director Janet Arnold has a friend in renowned actor Ed Asner, who graciously performs here periodically to support Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s work.

Most recently he treated Valley audiences to a reading of Rich Orloff’s “Advanced Chemistry,” a pair of plays about “love, lust and longevity” at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. The event helped Arizona Jewish Theatre Company raise funds needed to continue their season with “The Blessing of a Broken Heart” — a work they’re dedicating to former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Tucson.

But now it’s Asner who needs our help. Asner has both a son and grandson with autism, and says the issue “really hits me at home.” Asner describes the organizations Autism Speaks as “the main focus of my family’s charitable efforts.”

Will Asner and Charlotte Luckerman in a photo shared by Matthew Asner

Asner’s son Matthew serves as executive director for Autism Speaks in Southern California. “He is on the front lines,” says Asner, “fighting for our kids and others like them.” Ed Asner is eager to both improve the quality of life for children and adults with autism — and to “find a way to stop it.”

Asner has four children. Twins Matthew and Liza Asner, and Katie Luckerman, are in their 40s. Charlie Asner is in his 20s. His oldest grandchild, Jake Asner, is 11 — and the youngest, Charlotte Luckerman, is just two. There’s also Will Asner (age 9), Gabriel Luckerman (age 8), Grant and Helena Asner (7-year-old twins), and Sam Luckerman (age 5).

His passion for supporting families living with autism was clear when we chatted by phone a while back, soon after the American Psychiatric Association released information about proposed criteria for autism spectrum disorders — which Asner and other autism advocates worry will mean less help for individuals and families living with autism.

Jake Asner self-portrait, shared by Matthew Asner

Folks eager to join Asner in fighting for autism research and increased public awareness can donate to Asner’s “Walk Now for Autism Speaks” team — which is participating in the “10th Annual Los Angeles Walk Now for Autism Speaks” on April 21. Or click here to join his “Asner’s Avengers” online.

Those eager to participate on the local level too can support the “Arizona 2012 Walk Now for Autism Speaks” as well. It takes place Oct. 28, and is being presented in partnership with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

Both Autism Speaks and SAARC offer plenty of ongoing opportunities to learn more about autism and ways to support families living autism. SAARC presents a free screening of HBO Film’s Temple Grandin” at Studio Movie Grill in Scottsdale Feb. 21 (click here to register because space is limited).

Walk. Watch. Donate. Volunteer. Write to legislators. Learn more. And listen. That’s what friends are for.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Arizona Jewish Theatre Company — which is home to Curtain Call Youth Theatre (which holds auditions for “Annie” on March 5) and All Rights Reserved teen improv troupe (which presents a teen improv festival on Feb. 26), plus a variety of special programs and events.

Coming up: Ed Asner talks arts in education, Once upon a peacemaker

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Comedy meets chemistry

Family dysfunction and senior love/lust make for interesting chemistry during two unique performances coming to Phoenix this week

After learning that playwright Steve Solomon used to teach physics, I decided to ask about similarities between the two crafts. In typical stand-up fashion, he was off and running with a riff about sparks and explosions in his onetime classroom. “I was a fun teacher,” he says.

Seems former students still come to see his shows, which feature an homage of sorts to family dysfunction. His “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy” opens a Phoenix run this week at the Herberger Theater Center. It’ll feature actor, comedian and impressionist Ron Tobin.

Solomon did the one-man show himself until demand outpaced his powers to get from place to place. Last year, he did about 200 of the 300-plus shows featuring this work or one of its variations. “We’re in South Africa now,” he says, “and we’ll probably be in Israel and Australia by the middle of the year.”

I say we clone all the good comedians and stick the rest of them in a closet. Solomon shares my take on comedy trending towards the rude and crude. “Most comedy clubs,” he says, “are a little too crude and coarse for me.”

Comedians are born rather than made, according to Solomon, who says he’s been at it since the age of two. Once he got a bit older, Solomon liked to trick his mom by imitating her father’s voice on the phone.

Growing up in Brooklyn, Solomon discovered that folks were reticent to open the front door for Chinese take-out unless he voiced a Chinese dialect. Seems his fondness for using diverse voices, accents and dialogues — something shared by one of Solomon’s two grown children — has turned into a rather lucrative career.

Solomon tells me he and his daughter used to walk around NYC pretending to be Russian immigrants who didn’t know English, and were pleasantly suprised at all the helpful types they encountered.

“There are about 20 voices we use in the show,” he says. Solomon says he looks for performers like Tobin who make people feel they’re actually hearing lots of different people rather than watching someone trying to sound like lots of different people.

The show is best appreciated, he tells me, by folks 40-ish and up. Younger audiences sometimes lament that “the jokes are old.” His response? “I wrote those jokes.” Solomon’s in his mid-fifties and readily admits younger crowds don’t always get it. “Kids who see it have trouble relating to it.”

Still, he’s generous in sharing advice with aspiring young comedians. “Don’t stop,” he tells them. “Do it any moment, any time — even if your family is annoyed.” There’s a twist, he says, that makes comedians see the world differently. Hence his belief that he can teach a comedian to be an actor, but not the other way around.

Ed Asner performs Advanced Chemistry Tuesday night to benefit Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Turns out a remarkable actor with a gift for both comedy and drama will be in the Valley Tuesday night for a fundraiser benefiting Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. Ed Asner, whose voice-over performance in the film “Up” is among my son’s favorite film memories, performs a reading of “Advanced Chemistry” Jan. 17 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

“Advanced Chemistry,” written by New Yorker Rich Orloff, looks at “love and lust among the senior crowd.” This production is being directed by Dan Schay, who served until recently as managing director for Phoenix Theatre. Orloff will attend the reading, and join Asner after for a short Q & A session. Then they’ll hit a post-show reception complete with complimentary drinks and dessert for those who’ve purchased VIP tickets to the event.

Asner is “the only actor ever to win Emmy Awards for playing the same character in both a comedy and a dramatic series,” according to his bio on The Museum of Broadcast Communication’s website. We all remember him as Lou Grant on both “The Mary Tyler Moore” show and its “Lou Grant” spin-off. He’ll be joined on stage Tuesday night by Janet Arnold, producing artistic director for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, and Jenn Taber.

Asner’s long and diverse list of credits includes eight television series, two television miniseries, more than three dozen made-for-television movies and more than twenty films. Broadway fans can enjoy his performance as “Pop” in the 1993 “Gypsy” film starring Bette Midler.

Asner hails from Kansas City, attended college and made his professional stage debut in Chicago, and made his way to Hollywood in 1961. He’s earned five Golden Globe Awards, seven Emmy Awards and served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1981-1985.

During the course of just a few days, you can enjoy acting, playwriting and comedic genius. No lab coat required.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for “Advanced Chemistry” ticket information and here for “My Father’s Italian, My Mother’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy” ticket information.

Coming up: Rock & roll for a cause