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Theater Reviews 

Wednesday, Jun 28 2006
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PICK GO BACK OF THE THROAT  Not since a couple of dark suits named Goldberg and McCann paid an inquisitive visit to a sensitive soul named Stanley has there been a more harrowing game of cat-and-mouse played out onstage. Yussef el Guindi’s drama unfolds in the apartment of a young Arab-American some time “after the attacks.” Khaled (Ammar Mahmood) is at first gently, almost apologetically questioned by two government cops (Doug Newell and Anthony Di Novi), but the lawmen soon ratchet up their game, having been led to Khaled’s by his former girlfriend, Beth (Vonessa Martin). Director Dámaso Rodriguez keeps the show’s menace to the scale of a human nightmare, never allowing the 75-minute play to become a PowerPoint lecture about police abuse against Arabs. Furious Theater Company, Pasadena Playhouse Balcony Theater, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru July 29. (626) 356-PLAY. See longer review in next week’s Stage feature. (Steven Mikulan)

GO FENCES August Wilson’s ability to transmute seemingly simple subject matter into dramas of epic dimensions makes itself apparent in Fences, the story of a black family beset by demons in 1950 Pittsburgh. Patriarch Troy Maxson (Charlie Robinson) was a former Negro League baseball star whose career was aborted by racism. His job as a garbage collector offers no respite from the talons of bitterness and anger that control his life; he frequently browbeats his loyal, long-suffering wife, Rose (Elayn J. Taylor), and his youngest son, Cory (Tjader France). Oddly, his only source of fellow-feeling comes from his brain-damaged brother, Gabriel (Dig Wayne). This is a house of dark secrets and passions that inexorably explode in an ugly denouement involving infidelity. Fences is unquestionably one of Wilson’s finest plays, not because of intricate plotting or complexity of narrative, but because of the vortex of emotions on display. Jeffrey Hayden’s direction is stellar, though this production soars because of the actors’ manic energy and skills. Also in the fine ensemble are William Stanford Davis, Jonathan T. Floyd and Wynter Daggs. Thomas Brown’s rustic set piece is artfully conceived. Saint/Hayden Company and the ODYSSEY THEATER ENSEMBLE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru. Aug. 6. (310) 477-2055. (Lovell Estell III)

GO GROUNDLINGS GOOD TIME PIG FARM Despite its title, the latest Groundlings sketch-comedy offering has nothing to do with pigs or farms. The show features a mix of zany characters and often-improbable situations that are sometimes uneven, but always creative. Accompanied by a live band that plays hits of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s during the transitions, and incorporating video as well as stuffed animals and puppets, the model for SNL-style comedy is clearly evident. (This troupe launched many of the SNL comedians.) Highlights include “Carpool,” a sketch about a teenage daughter and her inappropriately behaving mother, who is far too open about sex and bodily functions. “The Writing Is Good” lampoons Hollywood executives with gusto, and “Lifelike” features a little boy whose toys come to life — but not quite in the way he wanted. Roy Jenkins’ direction keeps the show running at a smooth clip and particular standouts include Jill Matson-Sachoff, Kent Sublette, Hugh Davidson and Steve Little. While the performance is entertaining, one gets the sense that, like its NYC television counterpart, some of the troupe’s most innovative and original material may be in the past. GROUNDLING THEATER, 7307 Melrose Ave., Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Sept. 16. (323) 934-4747. (Mayank Keshaviah)

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HAPPY DAYS: A Family Musical! Garry Marshall jumps the shark — again — in this unfortunate musical rehash of his ’70s TV series. The cast is fine under Marshall’s direction, and Randy Skinner’s energetic choreography is well-suited to Paul Williams’ catchy music and lyrics. The problem is Marshall’s book, which borders on insipid. Instead of the enigmatic hood of the series’ debut season, the defanged Fonzie (Joey McIntyre) is a cuddly hero, a point endlessly reiterated by the characters. When the Fonz tells the kids to go to the library on Friday night, off they go to study. (He even accompanies them to the College Boards to offer encouragement.) A potentially interesting plot thread about Fonzie becoming obsolete is quickly dropped, and the play refocuses on a romantic scenario involving Fonzie’s love interest, Pinky Tuscadero (Jackie Seiden). Instead of a shark, the play has a wrestling match which pits Fonzie and Pinky against the bad-to-the-bone Malachi Brothers (Matt Merchant and Matt Walker in an amusing bit). Ryan Matthew hits the musical’s comic high notes as Ralph Malph, one of Richie Cunningham’s (Rory O’Malley) pals. The piece achieves some droll moments with self-referential jokes about Laverne and Shirley, Charles in Charge and the infamous shark, but they’re few and far between. FALCON THEATER, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 13. (818) 955-8101. (Sandra Ross)

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