Theater Reviews 

Including this week's pick, Bush is Bad

Monday, Apr 9 2007

BLACK AND BLUESTEIN In playwright Jerry Mayer’s dramedy, set in 1963 St. Louis, Jewish real estate contractor Jeff Bluestein (Loren Lester) finds his moral compass spinning like a dreidel as he veers from Kennedy liberalism to “not in my backyard,” latent racism. Bluestein is desperate to sell lots on the upscale suburban housing estate he’s created — but he has second thoughts when he’s approached by wealthy and brilliant biochemist Daniel Black (John Eric Bentley), who is interested in buying. Black is, well, black, and Bluestein’s neighbors are worried about the possibility of plummeting property values. Bluestein is torn between doing the right thing and being pragmatic, even as he becomes good friends with Black. Mayer eschews his traditionally reflexively glib writing style to construct a surprisingly nuanced and personal play that cleverly examines the need to put your money where your mouth is in terms of one’s stated moral beliefs. Director Deborah Harmon’s staging is warm and intimate, and even though the characters sometimes edge into stereotype, they have personality-rich cores. Occasionally the writing falters into awkwardly sincere dogma, peppered with some decidedly tired Jewish jokes, yet the show’s compassion toward its subjects is appealing, as are the engaging turns by Bentley’s charismatic Black and Lester’s sweetly neurotic Bluestein. The Other Space at the SANTA MONICA PLAYHOUSE, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru April 29. (323) 960-4418. (Paul Birchall)

PICK  BUSH IS BAD Writer-composer-lyricist Joshua Rosenblum may be preaching to the choir, but he does it with panache, barbed wit, catchy tunes and a knack for clever pastiche. Bush’s favorite fall guy gets the full Andrew Lloyd Webber treatment in “Scooter Libby, Superstar,” and Jonathan Zenz performs a faux Schumann lied called “Das Bush ist Schlect.” With apologies to Jerome Kern, Condi Rice (Mai Thompson-Heath) sings “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Bush of Mine,” and Laura Bush (Stefanie Black) delivers her lament to the tune of Kurt Weill’s “Surabaya Johnny.” In the title role, Roger Ainslie may look like a young Hugh Grant, but he has Bush’s fatuous mannerisms, quirks and smirks down pat. He refers to himself as the Decisionator, and his portrait of Bush Thinking is hilarious. Gerry Mullins appears as both Barbara Bush and Vice President Cheney (a reasonable pairing, really). Sabrina Miller plays a preening Ann Coulter, and Michael Craig Shapiro, as Attorney General Gonzalez, sings “Torture Has Been Very Good to Me.” Even God Almighty (Melanie Ewbank) puts in an appearance to hotly deny that She ever spoke to Pat Robertson, and to hurl thunderbolts at Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Falwell. The wonderfully talented ensemble, mindful of the only crime that seems to warrant impeachment these days, begs “Won’t Somebody Give This Guy a Blowjob?” Michael Lavine provides admirable accompaniment and musical direction, with impeccable staging by Jay Willick and James J. Mellon. NOHO ARTS CENTER, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 20. (818) 508-7101. (Neal Weaver)

DOGGIE3LEG George Bennett’s black comedy starts with a jolting image: a man in a suit, handcuffed, wearing an Abu Ghraib hood. Sigmund’s (Benjamin Sinclair) been kidnapped by his maniac younger brother Carl (Evan Martinez) and taken to his new quarters — the former funeral home where the brothers’ parents had been prepared for burial years before. Something’s obviously wrong with Carl, but Sig’s only focused on exculpating himself from the bank robbery Carl impulsively staged after abducting Sig, while Carl’s wannabe fiancée, Felicia (Nadege August), is convinced his spacy hyperactivity and obsession with Tater Tots are only pre-engagement jitters. When Carl’s housewarming party kicks off upstairs, various drunken archetypes trickle down to the embalming room, but what the mating dance of a rapper chick (Cheryl Texiera) and a cowboy (James Sheldon) has to do with Bennett’s thoughts on death, loyalty and the acceptance of fate is anybody’s guess. The tone-scrambled script relies on withholding information for suspense — its outlandish hijinks underplayed by an uneven ensemble — making the play feel like a promising idea that can’t kick into gear. DORIE THEATER AT THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 8. (323) 960-7740 or www.plays411.com/doggie3. (Amy Nicholson)

click to flip through (2) (Photo by Robert W. Arbogast)
  • (Photo by Robert W. Arbogast)

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