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Theater Reviews 

For March 3 - 9

Wednesday, Mar 1 2006
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GO CLAIRE Z. Friedrich Durrenmatt’s 1956 The Visit is a tale of revenge, malevolence, deadly intentions, a familiar image of the mephitic, cynical times of a morally bankrupt world. In this humorous adaptation by John Wuchte, there is no pretension of higher, humane values; the story involves a wealthy woman (played with venomous, seductive élan by Terra Shelman), who returns with a simple plan to the town she left 17 years ago, disgraced and impregnated by Alfred (Scot Young). She spreads around her wealth liberally in order to convince the avaricious townsfolk to kill Alfred — a plan that takes many twists and turns. Notwithstanding an ambiguous finale, Wuchte’s fine production and excellent adaptation imbues a sardonic, comic coloring to this otherwise bleak tale of revenge by adding some flawless choreography. Gone is Durrenmatt’s moral indignation, which Wuchte spins into satire like a gyroscope that just keeps whirling and humming with glee. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 26 (no perf March 5). (310) 281-8337 (Lovell Estell III)


GO DR. DOLITTLE This high-powered children’s piece is more akin to English pantomime than American musical theater, and that is its charm. Ninety minutes of song, dance and puppetry fly by in a perfect vehicle for a seemingly ageless Tommy Tune, who bounces through this fluff that is very loosely based on the Hugh Lofting children’s novels about the British veterinarian who talks to animals. The show pulls most of its score from Leslie Bricusse’s music for the 1967 film, without the lugubrious plot that spoiled the movie. Instead playwright Lee Tannen offers only enough script to give some pretense that there is a story connecting the dozen musical numbers. Tune and choreographer Patti Colombo stage the piece with a joyous innocence colored by a winking sense of camp that serves both adult and child audiences (teenagers should give it a miss). While Tune’s Dolittle is a great touchstone for young audiences, it is the animals that surround him that supply the delight — these are a combination of large costumed actors and cheerful bunraku-lite puppets all created by designer Dona Granata. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 5 (eve perf March 5 at 5 p.m.). (323) 468-1770. (Tom Provenzano)


FOOLS IN LOVE This collection of monologues, derived from short stories by Evelyn Duboff, qualifies as a theatrical variation on chick lit, examining the joys and perils of dating, romance, sex, female rivalries and women who’re invariably attracted to the wrong men. But though director Whitney Rydbeck gives the stories a polished production, and the eight women in his cast (Alison Brie, Mary-Beth Manning, Sandie Massie, Raina-Simone Moore, Erin Noble, Kate Siegelbaum, Andrea Walker and Lee Wylde) are attractive and accomplished, the stories are slight and undramatic. Clever and slick, they go down pleasantly enough while they last, but they leave little residue in the memory. Designer Denise Blasor provides the sleek couture. Odyssey Theater Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Sun., 2 p.m. (pastries and tea served at 1:30 p.m.); thru March 26. (310) 477-2055, Ext. 2. (Neal Weaver)


GO FORK One would expect a play that features puppetry, dolls, masks and projections of animated critters to be the realm of children’s theater. Director and producer Courtney Rundell’s play, however, uses these devices to tell a story of domestic violence that is clearly not suitable for children. The play deals with a woman named Diana (Sierra Fisk) who, like tumbleweed, drifts through a world of memory while making her way home in the wake of her father’s death. The production creates a Dalí painting on stage as the aforementioned devices capture Diana’s psychological struggle in coming to terms with the incest and abuse that characterized her childhood. The effect is at times confusing but powerful in this darkly humorous stream of consciousness. The entire cast gives strong performances, and all but Fisk play multiple characters. Angie Park’s set design and Jeff Bob Wood’s lighting create a strong sense of distinction between the “Outer Fork” of the exterior world and the nightmarish “Inner Fork” of memory. While the play offers a number of laughs, it also leaves us asking, as Diana does, if humankind “has lost its kindness somewhere along the way.” Magic Rabbit Theater Co. & Site Pacific at the Brick Box Theater, 1608 Cosmo St., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 3. (323) 960-1056. (Mayank Keshaviah)


GO HAMLET Director John Farmanesh-Bocca turns the great Dane (Adam T. Rosencrance) into a kind of Harry Potter, with spectacles, overalls and book-bag in which he conveniently stows a small dagger. On a mostly bare set with the stage floor painted to resemble a maze of concentric circles, the production sustains largely on the diligence paid to the language, and the way the sounds of the words cut the air, complemented by Adan Phalen’s sometimes overused, cinematic sound design that both accompanies and punctuates some of the greatest speeches ever written. What Bocca’s Hamlet lacks in range and nuance, he makes up for in clarity. Liberation! Films and the Met Theater, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 19. (323) 957-1152. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.


GO HAMLET David Ross Paterson’s Polonius invites the audience, in small groups, to cross throw rugs adorning the stage floor and settle into stuffed couches, on which we lounge while watching the action. Scanning each patron for explosives, and with earphone lodged in head, Polonius heads security at the Danish Court, which is sort of amusing since he’s the first one offed in Shakespeare’s bloodbath. The intimacy of director Eric Tucker’s living room concept is somewhat at odds with the distancing effect of multitudinous TV sets broadcasting Jesse Russell Brooks’ intriguing visuals. Because William Hurt’s Ghost appears on TV, we’re nudged to believe that Philippe Chang’s Hamlet really is nuts, inviting more judgment than empathy. This artful, ambitious production needs more vocal work (Chang’s Hamlet careens between brooding sensitivity and screeching hysterics), though Nigel Gore’s Claudius, Lolly Ward’s Gertrude and Paterson’s Polonius acquit themselves with poise and authority. Changtasia and Lyric Hyperion productions at the Stella Adler Theater, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 19. (323) 464-8871. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.


HAPPY DAYS The very mention of Gary Marshall’s TV sitcom Happy Days (1974–84) seems to leave many people awash in fond memories, and Marshall attempts to capitalize on that in this musical version. All the familiar characters are here, but when material is this predictable, everything depends on how well the old components are deployed. This rendition is mixed, more bland than brilliant, though it should please the show’s hardcore fans. The plot hinges on Fonzie (former New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre) feeling passé: His high school fans are all about to graduate, and he hasn’t been asked to perform at the Leopard Lodge picnic. But he is asked to join his off-again-on-again flame, Pinky Tascadero (Audra Blaser), in an improbable wrestling match against the evil Malachi brothers (Paul C. Vogt and Matt Merchant). Though the score by Paul Williams is unmemorable, it offers choreographer Randy Skinner the chance to generate some electricity in a jitterbug contest and a snazzy tap number featuring Anna A. White and Cynthia Ferrer. In a show about sock hops and malt shops, Keith E. Mitchell’s set fittingly suggests a giant jukebox. Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 12. (818) 955-8101. (Neal Weaver)


GO 1984 Michael Gene Sullivan’s adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopic satire about a totalitarian future strips away both the novel’s London setting and its specific critique of Stalinism, while updating the story’s sensibilities for the 21st century. Sullivan makes some obvious allusions to contemporary America’s war on terror but wisely avoids turning the evening into an op-ed page. The play begins toward the end of Orwell’s book, with Winston Smith (Brent Hinkley) already in the hands of the Thought Police, and from there flashes back in time to when Smith first fell in love with Julia (Kaili Hollister), a colleague in the Ministry of Truth, before joining an underground conspiracy aimed at the superstate led by Big Brother. Although chapters unfold, the stage is always the same: The ragged and bruised Smith is manacled to the floor of a black-painted interrogation room, disembodied voices ask questions and four Party Members (Hollister, Brian T. Finney, V.J. Foster and Steven M. Porter) alternately torment Smith and become characters in his confession. It makes for a swift (about 100 minutes’ running time) and effective retelling. Under Tim Robbins’ direction the action never slows, although, as a political fable, 1984 is more of an intellectual experience than a viscerally engaging work. Hinkley is sympathetic as Smith, while Keythe Farley turns in a brief but menacing portrayal of his suave confessor, O’Brien. Actors’ Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 8. (310) 838-4264. (Steven Mikulan)


GO NO MAN’S LAND In his darkly humorous 1975 work depicting the battle of wits between an eminent man of letters and a nondescript poet, Harold Pinter reveals both the class struggle and a bittersweet tale of youth, love and memory slipping away. After drinks at a local pub, wealthy Hirst (Mitchell Ryan) invites penniless Spooner (Tom Bower) to his sumptuous estate for a nightcap. As their imbibing progresses, verbal jousting and recollections serve as a sizing up of sorts for the two English gentlemen, who are apparently strangers. The arrogant Hirst appears to be in mental decline, declaring to be “in the last lap of a race I have long forgotten to run.” Things turn sinister when the thuggish duo Foster (a wickedly neurotic Whip Hubley) and Briggs (Paul Jenkins), ostensibly Hirst’s caretakers, arrive to protect their master and menace the hapless Spooner. As with many of Pinter’s plays, there are frequent shifts in the power dynamics, and director Johh Pleshette’s staging adroitly embodies that ebb and flow, though the eschewing of British accents by his superb cast denies us a bit of the richness of Pinter’s florid dialogue. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 26. (800) 595-4849. (Martín Hernández)


GO NOT A GENUINE BLACK MAN Black comedian and talk radio DJ Brian Copeland grew up during the early 1970s in San Leandro, a white sundown town seething on the fringes of the ultra-liberal San Francisco Bay area. His coming-of-age monologue ticks off the ways San Leandro seemed more like a hamlet in Cobb County, Georgia, than a suburb 10 miles east of Berkeley. As an 8-year-old, he is picked up by a cop for carrying a baseball bat to a park near his home, is falsely accused of tossing a neighbor’s cat into a pool, and belongs to a family that almost immediately faces eviction on the grounds that it is “too large.” Copeland, who says he is often dismissed as not being an authentic African-American male (too articulate, too hard-working, too devoted to his family), is a likable figure and impersonates a retinue of family members and other characters. His memoir is most poignant when he asks why he is not considered “genuine” when black pimps, thugs and cheats are accorded folk status. It’s an unanswerable question. At 110 minutes, the show, directed by David Ford, feels rather long and is less successful when Copeland tries to weave in his adult struggle with depression, one that included a suicide attempt; this is territory that clearly needs to be explored in another show. The Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 1. (213) 389-9860. (Steven Mikulan)


GO ON THE VERGE, OR THE GEOGRAPHY OF YEARNING As three female adventurers pause a moment in the middle of harsh, bitter Terra Incognita to have a pleasant snack of date bread and cream cheese, the bewilderingly kaleidoscopic yet ultimately incisive landscape onto which playwright Eric Overmyer has plunged his heroines comes to light. The women slide past pillars of stalwart, Victorian feminism to find themselves consumed by the future. Their individual identities emerge into a kind of freedom that their 19th-century selves could only dream of. This is a beautiful play. Overmyer’s lyrical lines evince both wit and substance and, 20 years after the play’s first production, a thematic relevance that suggests perhaps we haven’t necessarily divested ourselves of wide-eyed, ’80s idealism. Chris Mangels’ crisp direction pulls the explorers (the excellent Nathalie Cunningham, Jackie Maruschak and Gina Torrecilla) across Jeff G. Rack’s barren stage, made vivid with the rain forest’s sweltering heat and the Himalayas’ frost by Ellen Monocroussos’ lights and some deft pantomime. James P. McDonnell’s costumes also enrich the action, especially when the ladies wind up in the swing and sparkle of 1955. Theater 40, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Mon.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru March 8. (310) 364-0535. (Luis Reyes)


GO A PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY It takes a while for adapter/director/scenic designer Michael Michetti’s imaginative realization of Oscar Wilde’s novella to begin to crackle. First comes a stilted hour in which the dialogue — lifted directly from the book — establishes the characters, the upper-class Victorian milieu and the arena of ideas and symbols within which the impressionable Dorian (the persuasive Steve Coombs) plays out his conflagrant downfall. The other main players are Andrew Borba as the vain youth’s intellectually corruptive seducer, Lord Henry, and J. Todd Adams as his portrait painter and fawning devotee. Channeling Wilde’s effusive brilliance, the capable Borba faces the not-yet-met daunting challenge of establishing a real persona beneath his character’s snide façade. The captivating performances come from the ranks, especially Annie Abrams as the bewildered actress Dorian drives to suicide. The play gathers steam in Act 2, leading off with John Pennington’s stunning choreography as Dorian’s demons descend to collect their due. Eclipsing any single element is the overall production design, a fantastical collage of objects, dance, lighting (Steven Young) and sound (Robert Oriol) reflecting the title character’s demented world. Theater @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 2. (626) 683-6883. (Deborah Klugman)

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