Theater Reviews 

Including this week's pick, Static and Highways Birthday Bash

Wednesday, Aug 16 2006

GO PICK STATIC and HIGHWAYS BIRTHDAY BASH As one character in the performance Static eats lunch and watches a TV news report about the atrocities of Darfur, a second character — similarly motionless — describes in detail the horrors she was subjected to as a victim of Darfur’s nightmare. When the victim appears on the TV screen, for a fleeting moment, the worlds of the two characters intersect. The production by the English company from Leeds, Theatre Unlimited, appears to be a political variation on a similarly stark two-character recitation by another innovative Midlands performance troupe — Forced Entertainment’s Exquisite Pain, about the essences of grief and heartbreak. The U.S. premiere of Static will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now: Photographs of Michal Ronnen Safdie.” SKIRBALL CULTURAL CENTER, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Fri., Aug. 18, 8 p.m. (866) 468-3399 or www.ticketweb.com.

To celebrate Highways’ 17th birthday, dance troupe Diavolo, Method Contemporary Dance, Bradley Michaud and Jay Bartley, Holly Johnston, LABdp and Stephanie Nugent take the stage on Fri., Aug. 18, 8:30 p.m. On Sat., Aug. 19, 8:30 p.m., Holly Hughes returns with a “sapphic sampler” of new work, plus a presentation by Luis Alfaro. HIGHWAYS PERFORMANCE SPACE, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. (310) 453-1755. (Steven Leigh Morris)

BANG! Christian Kennedy’s extremely raw restaging of Anthony Mora’s perverse yet intensely human love story seems at first excruciatingly pedestrian. It slowly grows on you, thanks to a subterranean chemistry between actors Rico Simonini as an aging poser, John, and Jennifer Tetlow as Janie, the psychotic teenager he tries to protect from a cult. An improvisatory theater-vérité naturalism leads to some circular repetitions of dialogue that deflate the drama, further flattened by long, silent scene changes in the dark. Adapting his own novel, Mora hasn’t found the play’s dramatic form, and John’s motives remain dubious. So I can’t really explain why this story is so arresting. Perhaps it’s the noir view of psychologically untethered characters, and a refreshing unpredictability of what will happen from one minute to the next. The play also features Ann Convery and Roberto Sanz Sanchez. SIDWALK STUDIO THEATER, 4150 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 22. (818) 558-5702. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.

click to enlarge Theatre Unlimited's Static
  • Theatre Unlimited's Static

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GO CURTAINS Rupert Holmes, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s new musical. AHMANSON THEATER, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 10 (added perfs Aug. 24, 31 & Sept. 7, 2 p.m.; no 7:30 p.m. perfs Aug. 27 & Sept. 3 & 10). (213) 628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org. See Stage feature. DAYS OF WHINE AND ROSES Despite the silly-clever title, writer-performer Jessica Bern’s autobiographical monologue offers few roses, and the whines are more like snarls. As she tells it, her parents were nonobservant Jews, remote and uninterested; and her sisters, unfeeling ciphers. She gave her virginity as a Christmas present to a callow high school athlete who then dumped her before marrying a Catholic, whose mother “kept his balls in a glass on her nightstand.” “When I was fucking him,” she says, “I always felt like I was fucking my mother-in-law.” After a long struggle to conceive, she had a daughter, followed by a divorce, a failed online courtship and so on. Though the piece is called a comedy, and there are some laughs (and winces) of recognition, Bern views her characters with a jaundiced, harshly critical eye, which makes it hard to care about them or her. Under the aegis of director Paula Killen, Bern performs with considerable skill, but if she has learned anything from her adventures, she doesn’t reveal it. ELEPHANT LAB THEATER, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 31. (323) 960-1056. (Neal Weaver)

FAMOUS BLUE Eleven sketches by Phinneas Kiyomura provide a good showcase for the author of Lydia in Bed, although it’s uncertain what the draw for theatergoers is, since the anthology doesn’t jell as a unified event. Codirected by Andy Mitton and Sam Roberts on a barren set of gray platforms, a cast of six barefoot actors does its best work in Kiyomura’s more serious pieces. “Famous Blue Raincoat,” which opens the show, is an enigmatic, late-night conversation between two roommates who have evidently shared a relationship with a woman who has recently given them the slip. Actors Kiyomura and David Wilcox are both named Leonard, suggesting the roommates are actually two masks of one personality — one remorseful, the other laconic. (“Leonard” also pays homage to Leonard Cohen, from whose song the piece takes its name.) Kiyomura and Wilcox work their opposing personas into a tense dialogue that recalls early Pinter blackouts. Likewise, “Will,” a vignette about a woman (McKerrin Kelly) institutionalized by her own choice, is a melancholy reflection on freedom. (Other ensemble members include Scott McKinley, Nicholas S. Williams and Theresa Walsh.) On the other end of the spectrum is “Diabolical Enemy,” a disposable goof on animated superheroes that seems to have spun out of a Groundlings improv. Elsewhere in the bill, characters have names like Cain, Hero, Heroine, Wolf — requiring a viewer patience that is rewarded with fine acting but not always by clear storytelling. THEATER OF NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 16. (323) 856-8611. (Steven Mikulan)

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