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Theater Reviews 

Wednesday, Apr 12 2006

THE BODY AND SOUL OF A CHINESE WOMAN Pro­moted as the story of a Chinese woman’s struggle for free­dom and self-realization, this antediluvian comedy instead represents a giant leap backward for women’s issues — not merely decades but centuries. Long past her ingénue years, Amy (Marilyn Zhu) nonetheless remains a bashfully intrepid flower of Asian womanhood, a naive immigrant torn between traditional familial expectations — marry a rich man and have babies — and unfocused fantasies of spiritual and sexual fulfillment. The opposing forces in her life are represented by an insufferably nagging aunt (Ho Jung) and a mischievous inner self (Corrinne M. Chooey) who eventually prods her into the spiked-heels-and-leather-pants guise of a wannabe lesbian who attempts to seduce her English teacher. The plot’s too-numerous-to-mention implausibilities are compounded by playwright C.Y. Lee’s (writer of the 1950s novel The Flower Drum Song) stilted dialogue and the production’s correspondingly hollow performances, under Peter Henry Schroeder’s direction. Zhu, a dancer with no professional acting experience, defines her role with squeals, pouts and simpers. And the between-the-scenes dancing — symbolic of Amy’s repressed yearnings — also lacks the requisite polish. Stella Adler Theater, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 22 (closing perf May 22, 3 p.m.). (323) 960-7744. (Deborah Klugman)

GO BRIGHT BOY This world premiere by Katy Hickman takes us into the idiosyncratically brilliant but controversial mind of Robert McNamara (Garret M. Brown). The play begins with McNamara’s arrival at Mills College on a book tour that coincides with a memorial service for Dean Rusk. While speaking at the service, McNamara collapses and during his ensuing recovery he traverses the pathways of history to face his inner demons. At the same time he strikes up a friendship with Helen (Keliher Walsh), the college president whose Vietnam Vet brother Howard (Hugo Armstrong) is after McNamara. In a parallel storyline, three coeds are protesting by digging a hole in the middle of campus, yet the connection to the rest of the play is frequently lost in the fog of war. The quasi-Brechtian style employed highlights political questions that remain relevant in light of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Laura Fine’s set design evokes the specter of McNamara’s mistakes through the ubiquitous presence of both filing cabinets and Vietnam-era camouflage. James Eckhouse’s direction creates rapid-fire scene changes that are executed with a precision worthy of McNamara himself. Brown and Armstrong give notable performances while Kim Chueh and Tracey A. Leigh demonstrate great versatility. Ensemble Studio Theater–L.A. at Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 7. (213) 368-9552. (Mayank Keshaviah)

click to enlarge Window of Opportunity (Photo by Craig Wadlin)
  • Window of Opportunity (Photo by Craig Wadlin)

GO EVERYMAN FOR HIMSELF Author/director/choreographer Ameenah Kaplan puts a new, personal spin on the tale of Everyman, brilliantly combining dance, spoken word, music, pantomime, Kali stick fighting, acrobatics, con­tortionists, aerialists and the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira. Everyman (mind-bogglingly agile Michael Gallagher), a Chap­linesque wise fool, is born out of a cocoon of red fabric, equipped with two tools: a map of the world and a book called The Law of the Land. Its rules are brief, cryptic and ultimately unreliable: 1) Take It In, 2) Go With the Flow, 3) Trust Me, and 4) Mate and Propagate. Everyman is joined by a large multitalented ensemble, virtuosos all, who represent the world. First clad in colorful Japanese masks, they become co-workers in a conformist, murderously competitive workplace, members of a semi-primitive tribe and, finally, sinister dark shapes in green neon spectacles. There’s also a woman (sinuous Vanessa Vander Pluym) who is both his partner and opponent. The hypnotically compelling score by Alex Wong, dazzlingly realized by musical director Blair Shotts, is mostly percussion, though steel drums and chanting add occasional melody. Strong design elements, including Kevin Whittaker’s spectacular lighting, complement the extraordinary precision and discipline of the cast. Silverback Productions & Oasis Theater Co. at Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 29. (323) 466-7781. (Neal Weaver)

GO L’EFFLEUR DES SENS Eurohunk Gregg oozes onto the large runway stage lip-syncing to the recorded voice of Joel Grey singing the title song from Cabaret. He is quickly followed by seven gorgeous female dancers who quickly prove that they are not only sexy but extremely well-trained in a variety of dance techniques. This odd but highly entertaining hour created by French choreographer Cati Jean consists of nine semi-erotic dance numbers set to mostly recognizable songs. The most amusing is a silly piece with the women in stiletto heals prancing to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” Other pieces are genuinely beautiful, particularly a number with the women in stretchable white shirts that evinces memories of Martha Graham and Mummenchanz. The most athletic event of the evening is Kate’s performance of an aerial act hanging on a bolt of seemingly thin red fabric — all to a quiet rendition of “Walk On By.” Part of the fascination of the evening is the venue itself — a huge open space with excellent sound and lighting perfect for both stage and disco. King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs., 10 p.m.; thru April 20. (323) 960-9234. (Tom Provenzano)

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