Theater Reviews 

For the week of March 31 - April 6

Wednesday, Mar 29 2006

GO CHEKHOV AND MARIA Playwright Jovanka Bach paints a bittersweet portrait of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (Ron Bottitta) and his sister, Maria (Gillian Brashear), near the end of the dramatist’s life and at the height of his popularity. This throws into question Maria’s worth to her famous brother — at least in her own mind — especially since, at the age of 42, he has surreptitiously married Olga Knipper, a notorious coquette of the Moscow Art Theater. Maria feels that this marriage has left her abandoned in her older age. In Bach’s vision, the siblings seem like characters straight out of Uncle Vanya, tortured by the machinations of their own lost desires, and in the midst of a passive struggle to halt the inexorable advancement of obsolescence. Brashear’s portrayal of the aggressively self-sacrificing sibling hits poignant beats but loses ground somewhat in moments of both levity and sincerity. However, she plays well against Bottitta, who balances the Russian scribe’s worsening fits of consumption with a rambunctious jocularity. Director John Stark’s straightforward staging of his late wife’s play serves the nature of the piece well, but some distracting sound cues and confusing staging muddy a few aspects of the production. Nonetheless, the subject is fascinating and the play is deceptively remarkable, a bit like Chekhov’s own writings. Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 9. (310) 477-2055. (Luis Reyes)

GO DIBUJOS DE NUESTRA FRONTERA (SKETCHES OF OUR BORDER) This series of vignettes, both humorous and harrowing, touch on various aspects of Latino life. Performers James Donlon (who also directs), David Guerra, Stephanie O’Neil, Carlos Orlando Peñuela and Victoria Ramos utilize several performance styles, from mime to clowning to movement, in enacting stories drawn from true experiences and developed jointly by the gifted ensemble. In a hilarious commentary on racial discrimination in Latin America, Guerra plays a director of telenovelas (Spanish-language soap operas) auditioning actors for a new show. Despite the Spanish proficiency of the darker-skinned performers, they are relegated to servants’ roles while it’s the European-looking, Spanish-deficient actors who get the high-profile leads. The most moving work is a re-enactment of the 28 days Ramos’ aunt spent as captive of a brutal coyote (immigrant smuggler) in Mexico during her journey from Colombia to the U.S. The cast expertly portray multiple characters and even make inanimate objects come alive in this grim but life-affirming saga. A skit by Peñuela is an undercooked tale of conflict with his macho older brother, and director Donlon’s own mime work, exceptional though it may be, falls outside of the show’s larger theme. Fremont Center Theater, 1000 Fremont Ave., S. Pasadena; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru April 9. (866) 811-4111. (Martín Hernández)

GO JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE Set in Pittsburgh in 1911, the action in the second of August Wilson’s 10-play “Pittsburgh Cycle” unfolds in a comfortably appointed boarding house owned by Seth Holley (the feisty Gregg Daniel) and his amiable wife, Bertha (Lorey Hayes). The tenants are a colorful bunch: There’s Jeremy (Andre Jackson), a womanizing road worker; and Bynum (the outstanding Adolphus Ward), a shaman/healer with mysterious powers who defines a man’s soul as a “song,” an inner guiding music. The house is something of a way station for blacks migrating to the North, and when Herald Loomis (Bernard K. Addison)— a hulking, intimidating man filled with volcanic rage and bitterness — shows up with his daughter looking for his wife, aptly named Martha Pentacost (Adenrele Ojo), the shackles of the past collide with destiny and the supernatural. Like many of Wilson’s plays, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is rife with symbolism, the salient interplay of past and present, and razor-sharp dialogue. It takes a special director and cast to meld all these elements, and Ben Bradley does just that. Travis Gale Lewis has designed a beautiful set that evokes the time and place, splendidly complemented by Naila Aladdin-Sanders’ meticulously designed period costumes. Fountain Theater, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 7. (323) 663-1525. (Lovell Estell III)

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GO THE LION IN WINTER Twelfth-century Europe may have been brutally barbarous, but playwright James Goldman depicts the internecine battles over succession to the English throne as an elegantly witty chess match — or a clever game of “Gotcha!” The time is December 1285, and King Henry II (Jim Beaver) is holding Christmas Court. He has summoned his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Bridget Hanley), whom he has kept imprisoned for the last 10 years, and their three sons, Richard Lionheart (Yancey Dunham), conniving Geoffrey (Matt Richey) and rapscallion John (Adam Conger), each eager to snatch the throne. Also present are young King Philip of France (Jason Galloway) and his sister Alais (Kendra Cover), who is Henry’s mistress though she’s engaged to Richard. Henry wants young John to inherit his throne, while Eleanor is backing Richard. The ensuing battle mixes backstabbing, treachery, ever-shifting loyalties and brilliant repartee. Beaver is a virile, histrionic Henry, well matched by Hanley as his lovingly treacherous wife. Director Mark Travis, eager to emphasize the ferocity beneath the words, hypes things up with a knockabout prologue, percussion, animal sounds and meaningless tableaux on a faux Stonehenge set by Jeff Rack. If you can get past these distractions, it’s an engrossing production. Theater West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 1. (323) 851-7977. (Neal Weaver)

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