The documentary “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief” by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Lawrence Wright, will open in limited release at The Arclight Cinema in Hollywood on March 13, followed by HBO screenings beginning March 29. The cablecast date was originally slated for March 16, but was pushed back; it has reportedly taken 160 lawyers to clear the release of “Going Clear.”

The film’s premiere at Sundance generated positive reviews and raised the hackles of Scientology’s top brass. Full-page New York Times ads and rebuttal videos have attacked the filmmakers as liars.

Santa Monica Symphony performs on Saturday at Wilshire Blvd. Temple; Photo by Tom Bonner
Santa Monica Symphony performs on Saturday at Wilshire Blvd. Temple; Photo by Tom Bonner

Allen Barton is a playwright and pianist who took over the reins of the Beverly Hills Playhouse, founded by legendary acting teacher and director Milton Katselas. Katselas’s long association with Scientology brought many new acting recruits to the Church, including big names and award winners.

But according to some reports, Kataselas chose not to fully advance “up the bridge to freedom,” as Scientology characterizes its hierarchy, and was perceived as being insufficiently committed to the Church. It wasn’t long before students were allegedly instructed to cut their ties with him, followed by what’s been characterized as a smear campaign. Katselas died shortly thereafter.

A timely show, the Skylight Theatre Company production of Allen Barton’s “Disconnection” at Beverly Hills Playhouse is based on his own experiences with Scientology, and on his personal relationship with Mario Feninger, a concert pianist who was his music teacher, a member of Scientology and an old friend of founder L. Ron Hubbard.

A former member, Barton chose to remove himself from Scientology’s sphere after witnessing its treatment of Katselas. Reconnecting with Feninger and helping him financially, Barton was identified as “a suppressive personality.” Feninger received word that he could no longer communicate with Barton and should not accept his money.

Although denied as a tactic by members of Scientology, “disconnection” aims to alienate, isolate and discredit former members and provides the inspiration for Barton’s play.

A pianist desperate to recover from the guilt over his responsibility for an accident that killed his wife joins a church that offers solace, but now is looking to leave it. An added plot point involves his daughter, from whom he has been estranged due to the accident, and who, as she advances up the church ladder, is pregnant and beginning to question its role in controlling her life. As both father and daughter begin breaking away, intimidation, physical violence, shaming and disconnection are among the tactics employed to prevent them from slipping out of its clutches.

This is revealing, complex and subtle stuff, but it’s done in a somewhat static and verbose way; more talk than dramatic action. Nevertheless, for anyone who worries about a loved one being caught up in a cult-like organization, “Disconnection” is worth seeing and discussing, and the actors’ performances are solid and persuasive.

“Disconnection” is scheduled through March 29 at Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd. For more information and tickets, visit or call (213) 761-7061.

‘Dead Man Walking’

I wish you could still see the Opera Parall√®le production of “Dead Man Walking,” but there were only two performances at the Broad Stage last weekend.

I went knowing that I am not a big opera buff nor terribly fond of contemporary classical music.

But I walked out a fan. I can’t hum any of the music or remember any of the words, but boy, oh boy, what a dramatic stage production this is.

Generally, the clich√© of opera is that the heroine/hero dies at the end after some romantic plot twist. In this drama, the heroine is trying her best to bring comfort and justice to a death row inmate, his family and the families of his victims. The act of violence that put him there is acted out in the opening so there’s no doubt about his guilt, but he is trying to get his execution stayed by denying he did it.

He is also seeking spiritual comfort; but without coming to terms with what he has done, it won’t be possible to achieve. It’s hardly the stuff of love songs and arias but brilliant in the dynamic between nun and convict and absolutely gripping as a staged drama-sung instead of spoken-about redemption and love.

Baritone Michael Mayes, with his six-pack abs, tattoos and white supremacist hairstyle, is the killer. Demure, modest and earnest, Jennifer Rivera is gentle Sister Helen Prejean. Along with the other cast members, these singers aren’t just vehicles for the delivery of music; they’re utterly believable, acting and putting across a drama that is dense, emotional and very powerful, supported by the music and the book.

I am sorry that this was such a limited run, but if you ever have an opportunity to see and hear “Dead Man Walking,” don’t miss it.

Free concert

It’s not everyday that a TED Senior Fellow plays Beethoven in an award-winning historic landmark.

But that is what’s happening this Saturday as violinist Vijay Gupta of the L.A. Philharmonic appears as guest soloist with Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra at the spectacularly refurbished Wilshire Boulevard Temple, recognized for its preservation efforts by the Los Angeles Conservancy. And it’s free!

Hear Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, the achingly poignant “Theme from Schindler’s List” by John Williams, and the Brahms Symphony No. 3 in F Major conducted by Guido Lamell, music director of Santa Monica Symphony.

Find out more and help Santa Monica Symphony continue to keep these concerts free at The music begins at 7:30 p.m. on March 14 at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90010.

Photo credit: Tom Bonner

Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also reviewed theatre for

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