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RISE AND FALL OF THE CITY OF MAHAGONNY In Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brechts epic musical, John Doyles staging consists of a series of artful but static tableaux, which leave Mark Baileys evocative and evolving sets, in conjunction with Thomas C. Hases theologically sculpted lighting and Weills very interesting score, to compensate for the paucity of dramatic interaction in the staging. Somewhere along Route 666, an old truck carrying crooks on the run (Patti LuPone, Robert Wörle and Donnie Ray Albert) breaks down. Rather than pan for gold (because that involves work), the trio establishes a town built on prostitution and gambling. You can tell this is Gods country a little joke by atheist Brecht because a hurricane thats devastated the region makes a sharp detour around Mahagonny. By Act 2, the cloud-riven backdrop is saturated in neon, advertising loving and burgers. Poor Jimmy McIntyre (Anthony Dean Griffey) commits the allegorical, hangin crime of running out of cash. In a throwback to the medieval morality play Everyman, all who once swore by Jimmy leave him to face the grave alone. Everyman was gunning for Heaven, but everyone knows that Jimmys goin nowhere but down. Even his favorite whore, Jenny (Audra McDonald), wont lend him $100 to spare his life. The scores dissonant beauty juxtaposed against musical anthems that recall Bach cantatas has an intensity in Act 2, accompanying pedantic kick-or-be-kicked literary themes of self-reliance in a heartless economy. (Translation by Michael Feingold.) LuPone struggles with some of the musical challenges that include melodic climbs that are like trying to scale Angels Flight in army boots. McDonalds voice is as rich and gorgeous as her amply paraded figure. (Ann Hould-Wards post-Charleston-era costumes contain a nice blend of grime and sluttiness.) Albert is more typical of the leading singers, a large man standing like a block of stone while emitting a resonant basso profundo in a concert with actors who move, but dont really act. Los Angeles Opera at the DOROTHY CHANDLER PAVILION, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; schedule varies, thru March 4. (213) 972-8001 or www.laopera.com. (Steven Leigh Morris)
ROMEO AND JULIET With Capulets as Republicans, Montagues as Democrats and their offspring the innocent victims of their vitriol, this stirring production of Shakespeares tragedy epitomizes the Zeitgeist of Americas 21st century. Keith Mitchells set comes plastered with red, white and blue bunting and recent newspaper clippings. The symbolism that director extraordinaire Joe Regalbuto and company impart is as clear as a high-def TV newscast. In present-day Verona, California, Romeo (Matty Ferraro) and his cohorts sport Bush, Cheney and Reagan masks at the costume ball where fair Juliet (Gina Regalbuto) awaits. Juliets father (Christian Lebano), whose brutality bubbles beneath a putatively benign surface, sports an American flag pin on the lapel of his somber blue suit. The cast is superb, as Shaun Bakers poetic Mercutio, Joshua Wolf Colemans sympathetic Friar Lawrence, and, despite an exaggeratedly stereotyped accent, Livia Treviños lively Latina nurse are joyful to watch, as are Ferraro and Gina Regalbuto on the balcony and beyond. By plays end, its hard not to view our star-crossed lovers as stand-ins for the unwitting dead strewn throughout the worlds killing fields all because our major political parties cant get their shit together. Loaded Media Productions and Theatre Planners at ART/WORKS THEATRE, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 17. (323) 960-7846. (Martín Hernández)
WHOS AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? In 1962, long before Edward Albees The Goat, came his cat and mouse. Martha and George (Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin) flail at each other in marital purgatory for the almost carnal satisfaction that torture arouses. These are academics, so their wit and barbarism are varsity-level rattles in a snakes tail. Brittle George is a frustrated history professor (the shadow of a man flickering around the edges of the house) at a New England college; Marthas the college presidents brash daughter. One morning, between 2 and 3 a.m., an arrogant, young and studly professor of biology (David Furr), and his mousy wife (Kathleen Early), swing by for cocktails. The event set up by Marthas offstage father contains a recipe for everyones evisceration, which comes about through a series of party games, ranging from Hump the Hostess to Get the Guests. Theres considerable suspense to the raw savagery thats supposed to culminate in the plays actual reason for being how, in Act 3, George destroys his and Marthas imaginary son. This is Albees link to the Theater of the Absurd going strong in 1962 which blurs distinctions between reality and invention into the view that life is so fucked up, the only sanity we have is from the meaning we create. Anthony Pages staging which did just fine in New York and London, implodes at the Ahmanson: Maybe its the huge venue that forces the actors to amp up the style to sitcom size at the cost of the plays innate menace. George and Marthas games are wildly entertaining in a warm and fuzzy TV kinda way, so that Act 3 comes off as literary artifice, tagged on rather than drawn through. Irwin serves up an undeniably magnificent kaleidoscope of wry twitches and subterranean stratagems. David Furrs lughead biologist traverses his descent into drunken hell with pleasing hubris. The women do most of the damage to this production. Earlys Honey is an overblown comedic belle leftover from The Dukes of Hazzard, and Turners Martha establishes a gorgeously gregarious presence, which she then occupies with such flippant delight, her devastation on which the drama depends is a hard sell. The shelf of L.P.s in John Lee Beattys realistic period set is a marvelous emblem of the times. AHMANSON THEATRE, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m (added perf Thurs., March 15, 1 p.m.); thru March 18. (213) 6289-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris) For an interview with Albee, see Theater feature.