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Theater Reviews 

Including Billy Connolly Live, The Return of Brother Theodore and this week's pick, Atonement

Monday, Mar 12 2007
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{mosimage} PICK  ATONEMENT Ably directed by Howard Teichman, Richard Martin Hirsh’s absorbing drama explores the tangled psyche of a middle-aged Jewish writer at a personal and epistemological crossroads. Michael Oberlander delivers an intensely fervid performance as Elijah Stone (née Steinberg, a significant detail) — award-winning author and satirist who sabotages his marriage to his beautiful gentile, journalist wife, Laurel (Imelda Corcoran), by straying into the arms of a younger Jewish housefrau, Shaina (Meredith Bishop). While the triangle serves as a framework for the drama, the play (which shifts from past to present) goes well beyond portraying the liaison to delve into matters of faith, ethnic identity and what an artist sometimes thinks he needs to do to feed creative inspiration. The script could use tweaking. The extended Act 1 spotlights the lovers in touchy-feely embrace more often than necessary. Elijah’s repeated declaration of passion begins losing its edge — maybe more so when one compares Bishop’s bromidic temptress to Corcoran’s smart and stunning spouse. The production also founders on Susan Morgenstern’s anvil-weighted performance as Faye; an ambivalent character (her identity emerges later on), Faye challenges the writer, prodding and poking about his angst, determined to see him expiate the guilt he denies. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Mon.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru March 29 (added perf. March 18, 2 p.m.). (310) 364-0535.
(Deborah Klugman)


BILLY CONNOLLY LIVE “A lot of stuff I’ll tell you tonight is the fucking truth” proclaims 64-year-old Billy Connolly early in his act. Dressed in black, sporting leopard-print Doc Martens, and looking like a cross between Jerry Garcia and Frank Zappa, the self-proclaimed “vulgarian” drops F-bombs like he’s in the Middle East. Yet whenever Connolly swears, or says anything really, it’s automatically funnier due to his Scottish brogue. His ADD style of comedy jumps between topics like a monkey on crack, employing both outrageous physicality and props from his pocket (such as a mini eyeball). Many of his jokes are longer narratives rather than one-liners, and his subjects range from family members (like his crazy “knitting bitch” of an aunt), to superstitions (ghosts are a favorite topic), to observations of life while growing up in Scotland. Though Connolly retains his characteristic irreverent humor from earlier days, his age colors its tone and he sometimes comes across as the curmudgeonly “old man” abusing modern ways and longing for “the way we were.” Still, Connolly never takes himself too seriously, and he is therefore able to expose even the most serious of topics as “fucking nonsense.” BRENTWOOD THEATRE, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood; Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 24. (213) 365-3500. (Mayank Keshaviah)


BLACK BUTTERFLY, JAGUAR GIRL, PINATA WOMAN AND OTHER SUPERHERO GIRLS LIKE ME is an hour-long paean to teenage girlhood in general, and in East L.A. specifically. Orchestrated by Luis Alfaro from the writings of Latina poets Alma Cervantes, Sandra Munoz and Marisela Norte, this pastiche of contemporary American slang, peppered with a generous portion of Spanish and Spanglish, is an aural delight, notwithstanding its emotional and cultural importance. Humor and pathos both spring from the juxtaposition of the shallowness of teenage verbiage with the depth of pain. This production, directed by Cristela Saravia and acted by Margie Gutierrez, April Ibarra, Fanny Garcia, Ramona Gonzales, Blanca Melchor, Miriam Moses and Raquel Sanchez, finds all of the play’s humor as the performers caricature girls some 10 years their junior. Though the portrayals are partly gentle, much of the sentiment and angst is lost in over-the-top portrayals. Still, the power of these young Chicana voices comes through. Saravia’s comic-book set is visually amusing and sets the tone for her breezy, enjoyable production. EL GALLO PLAZA THEATER, 4545 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., E.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 25. (323) 276-1868. (Tom Provenzano)


THE CATSKILL SONATA Imagine a time when New York communists sat in Adirondack chairs lamenting the Rosenbergs, the entertainment blacklist and the good old days of Joe Stalin. Who knew? Playwright Michael Elias introduces us to a world “two hours from the bridge” in which artists and activists could escape Manhattan for the Upstate Borscht Belt pleasures of fresh air, beef brisket and political recriminations. Arthur Godfrey Show writer Dave Vaughn (Kip Gilman) is a freeloading cynic spending a summer in the late 1950s at a struggling resort owned by an old friend, Anne Rosen (Lisa Robins). When he’s not chugging screwdrivers and smoking pot, Dave schools waiter and wannabe writer Irwin Shikovsky (Daryl Sabara), while putting the moves on concert pianist Rae Isaacs (Lisa Chess) — and whatever other skirt takes Dave’s mind off his marriage. The blacklisted Rae chides Dave for being a backsliding idealist, while the hard-headed businessman Leo (Zack Norman) dismisses him for being a condescending snob. While nothing really happens in this 90-minute one-act, Elias so superbly lays out a sadly funny world of thwarted ambitions and intentions that we hardly notice how sedentary the story is. (The play really suggests a prototype of a longer piece.) Director Paul Mazursky expertly guides his talented ensemble through this Chekhovian terrain, and Gilman turns in a beautiful performance full of lethargic ennui. Set designer Desma Murphy’s rustic hotel façade and J. Kent Inasy’s wan lighting plot firmly establish the story’s twilight milieu. THE HAYWORTH, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 14 (added perf March 18, 7 p.m.). (800) 838-3006. (Steven Mikulan)


{mosimage} GILGAMESH Based on the life of a king who lived circa 2700 B.C. in what’s now Iraq, this ancient Sumerian fable, written about a thousand years later on 11 stone tablets, was discovered by archeologists in 1853. The epic fantasia follows the eponymous tyrant (Deobia Oparei) on his quest for glory and immortality. The story concerns just about everything that has ever mattered — ego and alter-ego (Will Watkins), aggression and civilization, grief and mortality, i.e., what it means to be human. Adapter Stephen Sachs co-directs with Jessica Kubzansky a simple, elegant and robustly physical production of Stephen Mitchell’s new translation, mostly staged in front of a looming city wall. This production hangs on its vivid presentational style and grand gestures. The charged ensemble also includes Necar Zadegan, Fran Bennett, Shaheen Vaaz, Newton Kaneshiro, Cynthia Boorujy and Jack Kandel. THEATER @ BOSTON COURT, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 8. (626) 683-6883. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature next week.


JAMAICA, FAREWELL Writer-performer Debra Ehrhardt tells a terrific story with wit and panache. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, daughter of a gentle, pious mother and an irresponsible, alcoholic father, she came of age during the Jamaican Revolution. Life was bleak, dangerous and devoid of opportunity, so she longed desperately to emigrate to the U.S. But the Jamaican government declared it illegal to take more than $50 out of the country, while American immigration required visa applicants to prove economic independence. She kept her eye on the main chance and befriended a handsome American CIA agent. When her boss needed to smuggle a million dollars to Miami, she volunteered to carry it out (with the unwitting assistance of her CIA man), in exchange for an American visa and $10,000. Her rental car broke down on the way to the remote airport, leaving her stranded, alone and on foot, in the middle of the night in the Jamaican boondocks, carrying $1,010,000 in $500 bills. She was stalked by men with machetes, fought off a would-be rapist, and wound up in a Jamaican whore house. Then, she had to get through customs. Under the sure directorial hand of Monique Lai, the show’s suspenseful enough for a thriller, and deliciously funny. WHITEFIRE THEATRE, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; alternate Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; thru July 1. Call theater for schedule. (310) 659-0463. (Neal Weaver)


A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: A Whimsical Thrance A blend of theater and dance (“thrance”), director-choreographer Jessica Schroeder’s staging of a much abbreviated A Midsumer Night’s Dream soars like Daedalus on the wings of dance, until it gets too close to the sun — the play itself — where many of the marvelous dancers can’t negotiate Shakespeare’s speeches and dialogue with much flair. It’s actually interesting to see so many performers move so beautifully and then take a stylistic plunge when asked to speak, demonstrating how acting style and dance style are separate beasts. Schroeder casts her company gender-blindly, with the fairy king and queen both played by women (Sasha Carrera and Sarah Leseley), as is Lysander (the charming C.J. Merriman), who matches the fairly diminutive stature of the fellow playing Hermia (Trieu Dylan Tran). Naturally, all this gender-bending throws the couplings into some provocative combinations. Atim Udoffia’s towering Helena segues seamlessly from portraying her clumsy, befuddled character then snappily cavorting to Liz Phair’s “Extraordinary.” Joseph Beck’s portrayal of Bottom similarly shows a pleasing command of both text and movement. In musicals, when characters exhaust their expressiveness with speech, they burst into song. Here, they burst into dance: There’s something quite glorious about seeing the fairy aristocracy and the foolish community player all swaying to Tito Puente. With this company, the piece probably needs to be tilted away from theater and more toward ballet. The flowing silk of Etta Ray’s lovely costumes emblemize this production’s fluid grace. Outlaw Style Thrance Company at the STUDIO/STAGE, 520 N. Western Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 1. (323) 860-6503. (Steven Leigh Morris)


{mosimage} THE RETURN OF BROTHER THEODORE Theodore Gottlieb was a New York comic from Bavaria, once imprisoned in Dachau and forced to sell his family’s estate to the Nazis for a single Deutschmark. Part Edgar Allen Poe, part Dracula, this prince of darkness built a standup act (described as “standup tragedy”) on lunatic, pointless rants that flipped reasoned logic on a griddle and fried it until scorched. A bit player in movies and a voice-over artist, Gottlieb also appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as well as Late Night With David Letterman until his death in 2001. Because of his pre-goth dark turtleneck, Joey Bishop dubbed him Brother Theodore, and actor Robert Trebor reincarnates Gottlieb in a 45-minute late-night solo performance that paints Brother Theodore’s belligerent reflections on a twisted life with broad yet powerful comedic strokes. A squat, impish man with bushy eyebrows, Trebor points out victims in the dark theater with a flashlight. He hit on the woman next to me, who was squinting in the flashlight’s beam while the comedian, with a thick German accent, laid on ludicrously anachronistic and crude pickup lines, accompanied by a relentless glare. He also launched into a extended soliloquy on the folly of eating. (All dead civilizations ate food, and look where they are now — a cautionary tale to be sure.) “It’s better not to be born, but who is as lucky as that!” Brother Theodore rails, along with the joke that lies at this show’s heart: “If not for my madness, I would have gone insane years ago.” Trebor is frequently too loud and bellicose for the small room. With a director, that would be an easy repair, but none is credited. Camelot Artists at the SKYLIGHT THEATRE, 1816½ Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Sat., 10 p.m.; thru April 14. (310) 358-9936. (Steven Leigh Morris)


ROCKET MEN Five inept, small-time con men connive to gain possession of an IFD (individual flying device), but each has plans of his own. Assisted by his sexy girlfriend, Billie (Kirsten Roeters), and infatuated with professional daredevils, Perry (Lyle Skosey), wants to use the device to steal a jewel-encrusted jump suit supposedly once worn by Evel Knievel. Ex-magician Roy (John Joyce) wants to develop the device commercially, aided by Jamaican notary Deena (Veleeta DaCosta), who goes in for karaoke singing and occasional lesbianism. Bert (Mark Irvingsen), the paranoid inventor of the IFD, is convinced that sinister government forces are out to steal his creation, and fall guy/gofer Curtis (Chad Dossett) insists that he’s not bipolar, but merely depressed. Playwright-director Clyde Hayes’ script operates on the level of familiar sketch comedy, and his characters are like clockwork toys: Wind them up and they double-cross one another, repeatedly, till we neither know nor care who’s betraying whom or why. The production is, fortunately, superior to the material, and the cast is excellent. Skosey creates an almost consistent character amid the nonsense, and DaCosta contributes some appealing if irrelevant songs. SkyPilot Theater Company at SIDEWALK STUDIO THEATRE, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 25. (800) 838-3006. (Neal Weaver)


{mosimage} SPACE THERAPY Playwright Justin Tanner’s ferociously funny sci-fi comedy takes place aboard a space cruise ship orbiting Earth, where three troubled married couples (two straight and one gay) share a week of futuristic marital therapy. Notwithstanding high-tech trappings that include a handsome robot who extrudes the ship’s meals through his anus, the couples’ problems seem depressingly earthbound. One husband, Dan (Jonathan Palmer) berates his clueless wife, Helen (Maile Flanagan), for letting the spark go out of their marriage, while Connie (Julie Brown) can’t come to grips with her hubby’s (a very droll French Stewart) adulterous bisexuality. A spiteful shrink, Bryn (Mary Scheer) — who grows ever testier as the cruise wears on — oversees the therapy. Although the space-station gags add a cheerful quirkiness, Tanner directs his own play in a snappy and snarky staging that’s tautly focused and timed into a long, wonderful excuse for a barrage of insults and verbal pyrotechnics. The ensemble delivers the venomous dialogue at perfect comic pitch. The final romantic resolution is unfortunately perfunctory, but Tanner’s assured dialogue is gloriously witty — and vivid acting turns are offered by Flanagan as the goofy wife, Stewart, and Scheer as the witchy space shrink. ZEPHYR THEATRE, 7456 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 15. (323) 852-9111. (Paul Birchall)


TENDER Seven characters search for intimacy, in Abi Morgan’s moving play, a 2002 Oliver Award winner now making its U.S. premiere. Though several of the characters are clearly connected — old friends Hen (Amy Honey) and Tash (Jennifer Pennington), for example — not all the stories seem intertwined (even though they are). All of the characters fear intimacy on some level, as they yearn for companionship. Tash purposely mistreats Squeal (Shawn MacAulay) and Nathan (Mark McClain Wilson) to avoid the complications of a second date. The pregnant Hen senses trouble with her partner of six years, Al (Ryan Honey), who’s suddenly developed a desire for travel. Loneliness goes deeper with Gloria (Judy Blue), whose spouse, Marvin (William Salyers), simply left the house one day and never came back. Playwright Morgan has an eye for revealing details, but a number of the scenes are repetitive, particularly in the pub. Nevertheless, the action moves swiftly under Che’Rae Adams’ direction. Scenic designer Dan Jenkins has created an imaginative and versatile set that facilitates speedy scene changes, which are complemented by Dan Reed’s lighting design and David B. Marling’s sound design. The Syzygy Theatre Group at GTC BURBANK, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 30 (added perf March 17, 3 p.m.). (323) 254-9328. (Sandra Ross)


TROG! Low-budget sci-fi was once the elephant graveyard for some Hollywood Golden Age icons, including Ray Milland, Dana Andrews and Joan Crawford — the last of whom played an anthropologist who discovers the Missing Link in a disposable Freddie Francis movie called Trog. That 1970 film’s plot is reenacted with campy gusto by a San Francisco troupe headed by Matthew Martin, who plays Crawford in her role as “Dr. Brockton,” with writer Mike Finn featured as the titular cave man. Martin, who also directs, is a formidable Crawford in a town whose stages are yearly littered with Joan-cum-Faye impersonators. Martin displays a shrewd ability to pull back the histrionics in overheated scenes and let the eyebrows do the talkin’. Unfortunately, Finn’s script doesn’t match his restraint. The show is not a line-by-line reenactment of the film, the way Scotch for Breakfast approached Valley of the Dolls and Foxes some years back. Instead, it incorporates Trog’s basic story with lines thrown in from Mildred Pierce, Planet of the Apes and other sources. Christina Crawford’s book/film, Mommie Dearest, also figures into the mix — so often that before long we feel like shouting, We got it the first time! Still, at about 60 minutes, the show is a definite drag crowd-pleaser, and actor Heklina, as Dr. Brockton’s rebellious daughter, Anne, gobbles up just as much scenery as Martin. Cavern Club Theater at CASITA DEL CAMPO MEXICAN RESTAURANT, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sun., 9 p.m.; thru March 18. (323) 969-2530. (Steven Mikulan)
click to flip through (4) Marital conflag: Oberlander and Corcoran (Photo by Ed Krieger)
  • Marital conflag: Oberlander and Corcoran (Photo by Ed Krieger)
     
 

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