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DECEIT Since Bruce Kimmel’s melodrama hinges entirely on misinformation and gimmicks, it’s impossible to describe his murder mystery without giving the game away. Who is killed and why is a vexing question. In Act 1, we see a grisly murder (committed, oddly enough, with a lady’s safety razor). It soon ­appears that two out of the three characters are dead, though there’s still an act to go. It’s the audience who’s being deceived, and nothing is as it appears to be. This bogus plotting might be redeemed if the scenes were tautly written, and the characters well developed. Jeffery (Greg Albanese), supposedly already dead when the play begins, is or was a jealous husband obsessed with eating cake, and his wife/widow Kate (Tammy Minoff) is an actress who can’t act. Handsome friend Michael (Matthew Ashford) displays enough sinister charm to guarantee that he’s up to no good, and everybody’s busily deceiving everybody else. The actors strive in vain to flesh out sketchy characters, but set designer Matt Scarpino provides a handsome and clever interior, with a scrim wall that allows us to see the offstage skullduggery. Kritzerland Theater Company at El Portal Forum Theater, 5269 Lankershim Ave., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (800) 595-4849. (Neal Weaver)

GO  DO YOU FEAR WHAT I FEAR? Watching David Jahn’s sparkling one-man show, I couldn’t help thinking of a jarring segment during Fahrenheit 9/11, where filmmaker Michael Moore explores the culture of fear that permeates the national psyche. As it turns out, Jahn knows quite a bit about the subject and the deleterious impact it can have on one’s life. Coming from a conservative Midwestern city, his first dose of paralyzing fear was administered by a well-meaning but zealous teacher who instructed him about the dangers of provoking God’s wrath. Not long afterward, an ulcer ensued, followed by family changes, Ritalin therapy, the myriad traumas of being a teenager, a love affair with his best friend and the gradual, ­painful journey to self-acceptance as a gay male. Through the bleak subject matter, Jahn, a Groundlings vet, skillfully mimics a gallery of characters and spices the show with outrageously funny singing and dancing, under Robert and Ian Tucker’s sharp direction. Jeffrey Osaka works magic on the keyboards. Elephant Asylum Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb 12. (323) 960-4412. (Lovell Estell III)

GO THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER On the heels of his wildly successful Avenue Q, Jeff Whitty’s new, commissioned comedy provides the seduction of presenting literary characters, and some very funny jokes from the way they intersect. Act 2, for instance, opens with a rowboat named African Queen containing the kerchiefed slave Mammy (Kimberly Scott), from Gone With the Wind, having the best of times with Steven and Patrick (Patrick Kerr and Dan Butler), a datedly swishy, ’60s gay couple from Boys in the Band, while Hedda Gabler’s fastidious, bespectacled husband, George Tesman (Christopher Liam Moore), sits in the back rowing. And the image of smirky, perennially suicidal Hedda (Susannah Schulman) in an ankle-to-neck black mourning dress, sipping sternly from a bright yellow smiley-face coffee mug, is one of those Christopher Durang–type jokes that could upend Hedda Gabler for anyone who ever took it seriously. The premise is that these literary characters endure in misery because that’s how classical lit characters suffer — which is why they’re immortal. Here, Hedda and Mammy start respective campaigns for happiness. If they succeed, we’ll drop them as literary signposts. If we drop them, they die. (Characters slipping from our memory crash from the sky to their deaths throughout this production.) And so Whitty seeks to dramatize the relationship of their misery to our need to have them miserable. From this wondrous flight of fancy, Whitty’s play falls, like Icarus, from the effects of the blazing reality that whatever his ending, Hedda and Mammy and Medea (Kate A. Mulligan) will still be there, miserable, when we re-enter the street. This inevitability leads to a predictable, slapdash, ­provocative morass of a romp, keenly staged by Bill Rauch. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m.; thru Jan. 29. (714) 708-5555. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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HOW I RUINED EVERYTHING In writer-director Natasha Levinger’s lightweight romantic comedy, men are from Mars, women Venus, and actors must come from a loopy satellite spinning just past Pluto. So discovers 20- something Kate (Laura Lee Bahr) when she ditches her staid but affectionate husband (subtle scene-stealer Terry Shusta) for Jack (Jonathan Scott Meza), a melodramatic artist who demands more from life than the Discovery Channel and takeout Chinese — other women, for example. Levinger offers up an approachable tussle between passion and contentment that approaches, but never achieves, airy fun or social farce. The largest stumbling block is its leading lady’s grating performance that suggests more evil twin Meg Ryan than Molière. Cast as a charmless, high-pitched egotist, Kate’s an unlikely fulcrum for any love triangle, which belabors the play’s inevitable thud of romantic redemption. Eclectic Company Theater, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 18. (818) 508-3003. (Amy Nicholson)

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