Theater Reviews 

Wednesday, Jun 14 2006

GO PICK AGAMEMNON Charles L. Mee’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ Greek tragedy (the first in this theater’s season, called “Three by Mee”) concentrates, like Homer’s The Odyssey, on the impulses behind cruelty and war. This is the story of the eponymous general (Troy Dunn) upon his return from a 10-year military campaign to his wife, Clytemnestra (Marie-Françoise Theodore), who seethes that her husband sacrificed their daughter to the gods for favorable sea winds. Frederique Michel stages the play as a choreographed recitation, with a Greek chorus of what appear to be decapitated heads, one of which is a figurehead bust, bolted to the stem of a boat. Michel juxtaposes the violence of the words with, for her, an uncharacteristically gentle staging — as sensuous as it is disciplined in movement and tone, so that the barbaric epic unfolds with a blend of eroticism, religiosity and moments of ironic humor. This is one of the most rarefied and beautiful productions around, aided by shifting, projected images of ancient stone in Charles A. Duncombe’s production design, and recordings of Arvo Pärt’s haunting choral backdrops. City Garage, 1340½ Fourth St. (west alley), Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. (“pay what you can”), 5:30 p.m.; thru July 23. (310) 319-9939. See Stage feature next week. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO THE DARK AGES “I was just born in the wrong time, that’s all,” explains 15-year-old Nevada (Sara Widzer) of her Renaissance-era corset and dress. Romanticizing the past is one way she escapes her thoroughly modern parents (Fred Sanders and D.J. Harner) who are obsessively caught up in gadgetry and ambition. Running away is her other tactic, which flings her into the path of a socially awkward cop (Michael Crider) and an intuitive hippie (Alina Phelan), who just might be the reincarnation of Queen Elizabeth. In Act 1, Laurel Ollstein’s scrappy philosophical comedy labors to set up its fun, if familiar, clichés about disconnection (while riding side by side to the police station, mom calls dad on his cell to tell him he’s an asshole), but, thankfully, after intermission, the explanatory soliloquies are largely dropped as her emotionally starving characters break loose and hunt for fulfillment. Sprightly performances make Ollstein’s people richer than the sum of their tics — Widzer is wonderfully surly and fragile, and Harner is the go-to actress for brittle overachievers with a streak of humanity. Director Katharine Noon keeps a firm hand on the chaos as they seek to navigate the oceans that divide them both from each other and from their dreams. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 9. (213) 627-4473. (Amy Nicholson)

GO DEMETER IN THE CITY Shishir Kurup directs Sarah Ruhl’s new play with music about mothers and daughters (lyrics by Ruhl, music by Kurup and David Markowitz) — a contemporary Southern California riff on the Greek myth of Demeter (Bahi Turpin) and Persephone (Sadé Moore). In the legend, the Devil (Sonny Valicenti) snatches Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, who becomes queen of the underworld. The tears from Demeter’s grief drown Thebes, until Zeus (Peter Howard) intercedes to negotiate a settlement. Ruhl’s heroin-addicted Demeter from Compton gets her baby girl snatched away by Child Services and, years later, by the devil in disguise as a Young Republican on a college campus, which itself hints at the play’s finger-pointing satire. The creators don’t do well weaving the threads of polemic, spoof, tragedy and docudrama, but even this overstuffed burger has an unexpected appeal, thanks in large part to some splendid performances and the disarmingly good-natured cooks in the kitchen. Cornerstone Theater Company at REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., dwntwn.; Wed.-Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 5 & 9 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru June 18. See Stage feature next week. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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GO NO EXIT Jean-Paul Sartre’s baneful, existential tale of the damned receives a sharp, stylish mounting from director Jan Krekan. Sartre’s Hell has no sulfurous flames, doleful wails or horned impresario. Instead, it’s a bleak, well-lit room with drab sofas, where an officious, well-dressed valet (Ary Katz) presides. One by one, he brings in Garcin (Salvator Xuereb), Inez (Lenka Pochyly) and Estelle (Jana Kolesarova), all recently deceased. Each member of this odd trio has a respective tale of woe, as well as sordid transgressions. Garcin was a womanizing coward who beat his wife and was shot; Inez, a sadistic lesbian with a caustic tongue who committed suicide; and Estelle, a vain socialite and adulteress. They muse consistently about their former lives while trying to accommodate themselves to their predicament, their “punishment” heightened by an ability to glimpse the goings-on in the world. Ultimately, the only agony they must endure is each other. Krekan ameliorates the play’s pitfalls of stasis and predictability with some subtle directorial touches. The macabre, ritualized dance at play’s end, performed to Chopin’s March Funèbre is eerily beautiful, and the performances are all excellent. Accent Theater Group at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, 1336 N. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 2. (323) 960-7612. (Lovell Estell III)

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