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New Theater Reviews 

For the week of February 24 - March 2

Wednesday, Feb 22 2006

GO BARNUM “Barnum’s my name and miracles are my game,” announces James J. Mellon as he embarks upon his portrayal of the showman in this revival of the 1980 Broadway hit musical. Mellon’s statement is not inaccurate, as he and the company dazzle the audience with juggling, acrobatics, illusion and balancing acts, all while singing their hearts out. Through Cy Coleman’s music and Michael Stewart’s lyrics, we are presented with Phineas Taylor Barnum’s life from his first sideshows in the 1830s to his partnership with competitor James A. Bailey (Robert Mammana) that created the world’s most famous circus. Mellon gives a performance that is reminiscent of the cheeky, childlike enthusiasm of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, with a wardrobe to match. Director-choreographer Josh Prince creates theatrical magic on Craig Siebels’ set of boisterous primary colors by employing many circusy devices and techniques. Emily Kosloski demonstrates her considerable acting and singing talents as Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, while Yvette Lawrence as Barnum’s wife, Chairy, and the versatile Mammana, portraying at least seven different characters, give notable performances as well. Open At The Top at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 26. (818) 508-7101, Ext. 5. (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO ECLIPSED In Ireland, accounts of the so-called Magdalen Laundries (operated by the Catholic Church from the 1840s to the 1970s) were as shocking as the more recent reports of child abuse by the clergy. “Fallen women” (unwed mothers) were involuntarily committed to laundry cages where barred windows separated them from their children and the society outside. They were a captive work force employed by the church to wash the nation’s laundry, presumably along with their sins. Patricia Burke Brogan’s 1991 play, set in 1963, concentrates on the Killmacha laundry, under the aegis of Mother Victoria (Rebecca Wackler), a doctrinaire, authoritarian nun who can make a benediction sound like a curse. She’s assisted by the sensitive, eventually rebellious Sister Virginia (Lisa Dobbyn). Their charges include Mandy (Leslie Baldwin), who dreams of Elvis; bitter Brigit (Josie DiVincenzo); long-suffering Nellie Nora (Rebecca Marcotte); and asthmatic Cathy (Melissa Jones), whose life-threatening condition Mother Victoria refuses to take seriously. There’s humor and gallantry in the efforts of the inmates to keep their spirits up with jokes, pop music and minor rebellions. Director Sean Branney marshals a fine cast with skill, balancing comedy with social criticism. Theater Banshee at Gene Bua Theater, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 18. (818) 628-0688. (Neal Weaver)

FAREWELL, MISS COTTON Keith Josef Adkins’ comedy drama about a black neighborhood being steamrolled by gentrification makes some astute social observations. Unfortunately, the plot, which involves an old man (the always impressive Hugh Dane) longing for the return of a derelict nightclub’s heyday, grows blurry in Act 2 before completely unraveling. Black Dahlia Theater, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 26. (866) 468-3399. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.

L.A. REAL First presented in 1992, this 60-minute collaboration between writer-director Theresa Chavez and solo performer Rose Portillo spins a hare-footed overview of California history around one woman’s quest for her roots. Portillo relays Chavez’s perspective of a seventh-generation Californio, whose search for her family homestead spotlights the transformation of the land from a pastoral vista to a concrete jungle. The piece also pays homage to the strength and beauty of mestiza women, with whom the narrator comes to identify. Despite its lyric elements, however, what might have played effectively as a heartfelt personal testament comes cluttered with a barrage of music, videography and paintings that weigh down the narrative rather than complement it. Perhaps because it’s intended as an educational vehicle for younger audiences, Portillo seasons her telling with an outsize physicality that additionally undermines the effort. About Productions at [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 5. (323) 461-3673. (Deborah Klugman)

ONE STEP OVER Kelley Carlisle (Peter Haskell) lost his family, job, money, freedom and broker’s license when the Securities and Exchange Commission sent him to prison for illegal stock dealings. Now he has regained his license and works in a downscale trading firm, where he likes to play wise counselor to his younger colleagues. You have to have the guts to step over the line, he tells his protégés, if you want to become a player. One young man, Martin (Walter Novak), a hedonistic rich man’s son, lures Kelley into a “sure-fire” shady deal. The other, Jerry (George Svoronos), a coke head with a daughter in desperate need of chemotherapy, uses his newfound ruthlessness to hoist Kelley on his own petard. By the time the story ends, there’s kidnapping, attempted murder and a shootout. Though D.B. Levin’s play is clever, tough and dripping with ironies, it seems abstract and chilly, perhaps because we never learn the exact nature of the shady dealings. Director Alan Naggar leads a fine cast in a sharply honed production, on Joel Daavid’s elegantly stylized sets; we’ve seen these bottom feeders in any number of plays by David Mamet so that it’s become hard to care about them. Skin of Our Teeth Productions and Theater East at The Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 19. (323) 960-7774. (Neal Weaver)

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