Theater Reviews 

August Wilson's Fences, Buddy and this week's pick, Because They Have No Words

Wednesday, Sep 6 2006

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SISTER CITIES Writer Colette Freedman’s dark comedy about four sisters wrestling with their mom’s suicide features choice dialogue and five interesting female characters — an all-too-rare occurrence in the theater that only fractionally compensates for the play’s loose threads and raw edges. As a lover of life brought low by illness, Mom (Jill Gascoine) has birthed, from four different fathers, a chic and frosty attorney named Carolina (Susan Ziegler); Dallas (Nickella Moschetti), a conservative housewife; Baltimore (Jade Sealey), an unsettled student; and Austin (Freedman), a plain-spoken jeans-clad writer fleeing from her own celebrity. The play’s problems begin with its setup: While their mother’s corpse lies unattended in the bathtub, the gals squabble with such consuming narcissistic heat that the significance — even the very fact — of their mother’s death becomes elusive. Gascoine is persuasive as a dying woman pondering life’s whys and wherefores, but it’s hard to connect this existential self with the person her daughters variously — and inconsistently — describe. As the pivotal manipulator of events, Freedman’s portrayal demands more complexity. Among the siblings, only Moschetti’s color-coordinated housefrau registers on target; under Elise Robertson’s direction, the other performances come across as under-rehearsed and, like the material, highly promising but prematurely staged. CIRCUS THEATRICALS STUDIO THEATRE at THE HAYWORTH, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 17. (323) 960-1054. (Deborah Klugman)

THIS IS OUR YOUTH Kenneth Lonergan’s first play begins with a sloppy guy named Dennis Ziegler (Jason Ciok) sitting in his sloppy New York apartment, hypnotized by a small television set. Enter Warren Straub (David Huynh), later described as a “rich little pot-smoking burnout rebel.” Warren has just stolen $15,000 from his abusive lingerie-tycoon father and flown the coop, landing at Dennis’ house. Act 1 is largely devoted to Dennis and Warren’s debate over how to spend their newfound riches, their two most appealing options being girls and drugs. Lonergan’s dialogue is peppered with cruel jabs, but these two actors play up the hate in their relationship to such a degree that it’s difficult to fathom how they became friends in the first place. Ciok’s Dennis is one-note, yelling through every line, and Huynh’s Warren is so tail-between-the-legs nervous that their interactions are painful to watch. The play itself is funny, but this production lacks any semblance of humor. When Jessica Goldman (Kim Kutner) breaks onto the scene, her entry provides some salvation. Kutner’s whip-smart yet inexperienced Jessica is refreshingly layered, and she manages to draw some depth out of Huynh as well. Sadly, however, Jessica leaves toward the middle of Act 2, and the final scene is interminable. THE ACTOR’S PLAYPEN, 1514 N. Gardner St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 7. (323) 848-2184. (Stephanie Lysaght)

TWENTIETH CENTURY Farceur Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor) has streamlined Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht’s 1932 comedy — which itself was a rewrite of Bruce Millholland’s Napoleon of Broadway. Millholland was a publicist for Morris Gest, a ’20s Broadway producer, and Millholland spun his comedy from observations of Gest on a train from Chicago to New York. Through these two revisions across a century’s divide (not to mention the 1978 musical, On the Twentieth Century, and a pair of film versions), the essence of Millholland’s satire of theater folk, their vanities and solipsistic bluster in Hollywood’s long shadow still resonates — somewhat. Ludwig’s “fix” of MacArthur and Hecht’s rambling structure comes at the cost of some of the original’s charm, and stage producer Oscar Jaffee’s (Jeff Griggs) cavalier dismissal of the value of the Academy Award won by the former showgirl cum actress (Libby West) — whom he’s trying to woo back to the New York stage — is a joke from another century. But the play’s depictions of its characters’ desperation and fraud show qualities as universal in the theater as they are in most professions. Director Jules Aaron nudges the comic types with composer/sound designer’s Max Kinberg’s musical underscoring, like so many pokes in the ribs. Both leading players are fine actors who sustain a base level of mugging that handcuffs them as the lunacy escalates, though Griggs’ faked death scene has moments of comedic mastery. INTERNATIONAL CITY THEATRE at the CENTER THEATER, LONG BEACH PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (562) 436-4610. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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