By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Go True West.Just when the local theater season was looking as dismal as can be remembered, along came Joe Fria, Ben Simonetti, Mami Arizona and director Anthony Sandoval’s send-up of all things theatrical, starting with Sam Shepard’s play True West. Clowns Fria and Simonetti hadn’t gotten past the first 15 lines before being interrupted by Arizona on percussion, or by their own short-circuited impulses, forcing an evening of multiple replays of Shepard’s precious poetics, in styles ranging from Grand Guignol to kabuki. With the actors occasionally perched on tiny chairs planted next to each other and angled sideways on two legs at a 45-degree slope, the comedians still never lost a beat. Memories of Bill Irwin and David Shiner’s brilliant Fool Moon— also a play about nothing at all but physical dexterity and lunatic bliss — came tumbling back. Future Stars of Hollywood and Associates(their joke, not mine) at the Lillian Theater.
Copenhagen. If Go True Westdemonstrated that a play is nothing without the actors, this touring production of Michael Frayn’s riveting unsolved mystery demonstrated just the reverse. Concerning nuclear physicist and Nazi collaborator Werner Heisenberg’s (Hank Stratton) visit to his Jewish mentor, Niels Bohr (Len Cariou), in occupied Denmark, this play is so good, actors who simply say their lines trippingly can make it fly. It’s hardly surprising that Broadway vets Cariou and Stratton did so, but Mariette Hartley’s smart, dignified portrayal of Bohr’s wife made the pleasing argument that TV stars can have theater chops too. Wilshire Theater (still playing).
The Birthday Party. The Matrix Theater Company consists of nothing but TV actors with stage chops, as proved in Andrew Robinson’s pristine revival of Harold Pinter’s early play. There can be no argument with Robert Symonds and Angela Paton as the mindless homeowners with a room to let in the south of England, or with their tortured renter (Jay Karnes), set upon by thugs Goldberg and McCann (Lawrence Pressman and Morlan Higgins) on the young lout’s birthday. Paton did this same role at LATC more than a decade ago, but here it was both richer and smoother.
Mrs. Feuerstein. Here (inverting Copenhagen’s backdrop) was a raging Jewish would-be academic come to torment former German Nazi sympathizers comfortably resettled as teachers at a private American high school. Murray Mednick’s haunting exercise in linguistic precision was the third of a trilogy of his plays presented by this company, and it hung largely on Roxanne Rogers’ stylish direction, and on the enigmatic, wistful sadness of Maria O’Brien in the title role. Padua Playwrights Productions at 2100 Square Feet.
Fen. That Caryl Churchill’s plays have gotten denser with time was illustrated in City Garage’s fine production of her play about English folklore, The Skriker. But Fenis a comparatively realistic affair, a portrait of agonies among rural British women in a strikingly tender production directed by Stefan Novinski upon a set of dirt. Open Fist Theater.
Two-Headed. As Mary Mara and Colette Kilroy portrayed two Mormon women through 40 years in dusty 19th-century Utah, Julie Jensen’s play showed how the effects of the (offstage) 1857 massacre of a wagon train by Mormon zealots permeated their lives. Veronica Brady’s taut staging brought a Beckettian whimsy to the Spartan backdrop, and the play’s impact still lingers. (Inside) The Ford.
Foot/Mouth. Speaking of Beckett, his story Footfallswas staged along with Luigi Pirandello’s one-act The Man With the Flower in His Mouthat Santa Monica Mall. The actors (on level two) were miked while the audience (on level three) gazed down on them and heard dialogue via headsets. (Innocent passersby appeared quite perplexed.) Though Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fuckingcaused a stir at the Celebration Theater last year, to watch shopping and decaying was even more disturbing. Cornerstone Theater Company.
Grendel was among the season’s most original and thoughtfully conceived productions (by director Jim Anzide). Beowulf’s nihilistic demigod, Grendel, spent most of the night mocking and literally chewing up romantics in Paul Mullin’s woolly adaptation of John Gardner’s book. In the title role, David Grammer, in overalls, personified the kind of wry, raw energy too often missing from our stages in more studied approaches, while the ensemble offered him spirited support. Circle X Theater Company at the Open Fist Theater.
Underneath the Lintel. In Glen Berger’s one-man play, Brian T. Finney portrayed an insane Dutch librarian whose life crumbles while tracking down the Wandering Jew from a book the timeless fellow has returned overdue. The rest is an etude in loopy logic that wound into a transcendently beautiful parable about breaking free. Actors’ Gang, El Centro Theater.
American Iliad.Just seeing Nixon (Al Rossi) as an innocent child on a purgatory golf course, and Kennedy (David Clennon) as a wheelchair-bound wry fox, both spinning myths inside out, was worth the time spent watching Donald Freed’s incomplete yet intriguing historical fantasia. Victory Theater.
Also worth mentioning: Savedand Don Carlosat Evidence Room; Aquitaniaby Ziggurat Theater Company; Dame Ednaat the Shubert; Lypsinka!at the Tiffany; and Figaro! Pigaro! . . . A Barnyard Musicalat the Falcon. —Steven Leigh Morris