Mabou Mines Dollhouse and Weekend Theater Reviews 

Including Sandra Tsing Loh's Sugar Plum Fairy, Sister Act and Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants

Monday, Dec 4 2006

The men in director Lee Breuer and performer Maude Mitchell’s bawdy, touring adaptation of Ibsen’s play tower at around 4 feet high. Meanwhile, the “little turtledove” women, so in need of protecting, float around them with about two more feet of height. Sometimes they hold the little men in their arms, while the fellas — particularly Mark Provinelli’s glorious Torvald — patronize them. You won’t find a more direct satirical hit on the strutting self-importance of the male gender, whose very biological and emotional purpose has grown increasingly dubious in the past half century. Narelle Sisson’s set places the action in a doll’s house with miniature furniture, which opens into the stage of an opera house. The ensemble speaks in fake Norwegian dialect (“job” becomes “yob,” “joy” becomes “yoy”) adding to a string of verbal and visual puns floating on Breuer’s wrenching conceit, like foam on the sea. Playing Edvard Grieg etudes on an electric piano, Ning Yu accompanies the action, which is something between a clown show and a ballet, drawing out the innate melodrama of Ibsen’s text and puffing up the core emotions to a grandiloquence that’s almost as large as the men’s egos. Mitchell’s blond “featherbrain” Nora emerges like a lioness from her innocuous shell, while Honora Fergusson Neumann’s dark-haired, smoky voiced Kristine Linde works in perfect counterpoint. There’s never been A Doll’s House quite like this, which is its soaring virtue. The Mabou Mines presented by UCLA Live at the Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, UCLA, Wstwd.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 10. (310) 825-2101 or www.UCLALive.org.

—Steven Leigh Morris

MAGIC FLOWERS Like many a holiday confection, playwright-director Bill Sterritt’s romantic Christmas comedy is more sweet than fulfilling. A modern-day big-city Scrooge, Ethel (Amanda Niles), finds little about Christmas to be merry. She is lonely, bereft of love and claims never to get what she wants (though she has a pretty good gig with an ad agency). When a mysterious Man (Jonny Kahleyn) knocks on her door on Christmas Eve and tries to sell her “magic flowers” that guarantee romance, the skeptical Edith acquiesces only after the Man tearfully begs her to buy his blooms. Lo and behold, within seconds, Ralph (John Gorman), a handsome co-worker and the agency’s “golden boy,” makes an unexpected visit. Despite Ethel’s supposed dislike for Ralph, she lets him in, and you don’t need to be the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come to know what happens next. Considering this is the 25th anniversary production of Sterritt’s half-hour piece, it’s a shame he hasn’t used some of those years to develop his characters and their dialogue — especially the one-liners. Still, Niles and Gorman make an appealing enough couple that truly personifies the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover.” STUDIO/STAGE, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perf Dec. 16, 6:30 p.m.; bring a new toy for Toys for Tots and admission is free); thru Dec. 16. (323) 463-3900. (Martín Hernández)

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GO RICKY JAY & HIS 52 FRIENDS The friends referred to in the title are the cards in a deck. No need to go into how many fellas wound up on Boot Hill because of them. Perhaps none of this would have happened had Mr. Jay been anywhere about. One audience member correctly opined that Jay knows cards and card tricks as well as the Pope knows theology and the Bible. Jay not only can call cards from the deck, he can position them to draw out all aces, or any other combination that will beat your hand. The man is an affable card shark, happily disposed to throw out an anecdote or two about some of the great card handlers of yore and how he learned from them. If you’re not familiar with the myriad games in his act, no problem; he gives clear explanations. Of the many tricks that he pulled off with puzzling ease, none was more breathtaking then his tossing a deck of cards in the air, and then predicting the suit and number of the two he randomly caught. Some of the stuff seems repetitive, but that doesn’t take the luster off an amazing show. David Mamet directs with just the right easy touch. GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE (Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater), 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Thurs. & Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 27. (310) 208-5454. (Lovell Estell III)

THE ROADS TO HOME Madness and infidelity tear at two households in Horton Foote’s tender elegy to Texas family life in the 1920s. In Foote’s world the men doze, philander or make money while their women get through existence with the crutch of church and the narcotizing tonic of gossip. His three-scene tale is bookended by the slide into insanity of young Annie Gayle Long (Jenny Dare Paulin) and her eventual residence at a state mental asylum. A fine ensemble shoulders director Scott Paulin’s memorable production; especially notable are Laura Richardson and Wendy Phillips in the roles of two middle-aged wives keeping house long after the heat has left their marriages. LOST STUDIO, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (323) 871-5830. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.

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