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Theater Reviews 

Including White Trash Catholic Circus, Toyer and this week's pick, the Latino Laugh Festival

Monday, Jun 18 2007
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ALMOST WALKING A STRAIGHT LINE Writer-performer Greg Haskins grew up in a family dominated by Charismatic Catholicism, which he defines as a lethal cross of Catholicism and Pentecostalism. His religious upbringing collided spectacularly with his burgeoning homosexuality, providing the theme of this one-man show. Haskins offers hilarious-horrendous descriptions of growing up in a house presided over by dogmatic, emotionally remote parents, in which every moment was filled with Christian pamphlets, Christian tapes, Christian music and Christian worship, and all his many siblings went off to Oral Roberts University. At age 18, he fled home for the University of Oklahoma, but was still prey to religiously oriented therapists who wanted to “cure” his homosexuality (predictably, his “mentors” were prone to sexual lapses of their own). And he turns an equally satirical eye on the manners, mores and pretensions of the gay world. Haskins’ wit is keen, and his comic timing is razor sharp, but there’s a serious side as well: The most telling dramatic moment comes as his judgmental, homophobic father is dying of cancer, and Haskins realizes that this is his last chance for a meaningful conversation. He decides not to bother, and goes on his way. Kaz Matamura and Mike Rademaekers provide crisp direction. SECRET ROSE THEATRE, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 7. (866) 811-4111. (Neal Weaver)


IS THIS ANY WAY TO START A MARRIAGE? This show’s amiability and lack of pretense make it easy to forgive its anachronistic plot and clichéd characters. The story revolves around Megan (Kelly Stables) and Michael (Eduardo Enrikez), newlyweds who become trapped in their bridal suite (the door won’t open due to a power shortage) along with both sets of in-laws and a wacky bellhop (Daniel Bolero). Megan’s archetypically meddlesome mother (Cheryl David) emerges as the chief troublemaker, but she’s given a run for her money by Michael’s Bible-Belted, anti-Semitic mom (Austyn Wells), whose tongue wags dangerously after one too many martinis. The production’s chief liability is librettist Carolanne Marano’s insipid dialogue, which is far more difficult to ignore than the play’s improbable contrivances. Fortunately, under Bryan Rasmussen’s direction, there’s enough game talent among the ensemble to sustain interest. Stables and Enrikez, the frustrated lovers, keep steady focus, rising above the banality, while David’ domineering meddler consistently provokes a laugh. Although some of the songs (music by Wayland Pickard, lyrics by Pickard and Perry Lambert) seem pasted in rather than intrinsic to the plot, more than a few of them are catchy and upbeat. Along with Brian Murphy’s keyboard accompaniment and Noel Britton’s choreography, they keep the pace moving. WHITEFIRE THEATRE, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 8. (818) 990-2324 (Deborah Klugman)


PICK  LATINO LAUGH FESTIVAL This quasi-curated, three-day blast of Latino comedy promises L.A.’s majority-minority humorists — or is that minority-majority? — a subcultural lift atop a Hollywood-wide wave of exposure. The lineup includes Dan Guerrero’s fathers-and-sons journey through Chicano history, ¡Gaytino! (King King Theatre); Chris Franco’s My Mexican American Wars (Improv Olympic West), Diamonds in the Rough — unsigned and undiscovered comics at CineSpace and the Knitting Factory; Rick Najera’s Latinologues — the Broadway sketch comedy album of monologues about Latino experiences, at the Ricardo Montalbán Theater; Buskers Showcase ,   street performers outside Hollywood Boulevard; Sisterhood of the Traveling Mic , all-female standup at the King King; plus N*gger Wetb*ck Ch*nk the three-performer dance, sketch, poetry jam that flips stereotypes onto their side, while smashing the language of hate (see Stage New Reviews), and much more. Brace yourself, this is all packed in between Fri., June 22, and Sun., June 24. For a complete schedule, visit www.latinolaughfestival.com. (Steven Leigh Morris)


{mosimage} LEAD FEET AND NOTHING UPSTAIRS: A HISTORY OF THE LIFELIKE Writer-director Susan Simpson’s fable about three folk-singing triplets who shake up Los Angeles unfolds on a stage smaller than most new TVs. The girls — three ghostly pink puppets — were told as children that their DNA blueprint was so perfect that it replicated twice. Shunning originality, the sisters flee to Los Angeles, where immediately the city catches contagious meiosis as its buildings and people sprout clones. There’s a craft fair charm to the set’s tiny Disney Music Hall and fractional bungalows, and to how Sarah Brown costumes the Bunraku puppeteers — not in black, but wood-paneled jackets — which blend into the walls. Yet the same attention to detail given to a wee blanket of stitched daisies isn’t bestowed on the plot, which veers from precious to muddled and repetitive. With Jackie Kay Knox narrating the triplets’ adventures over Eric Lindley’s harp and folk singer Emily Lacy’s banjo, the overall effect is pretty, yet ponderous. THE MANUAL ARCHIVES, 3320 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perf June 16, 2 p.m.); thru June 30. (323) 667-0156 or www.­manualarchives.org. (Amy Nicholson)


{mosimage}MENTAL: THE MUSICAL The title suggests a campy comedy about lunatics and their problems, but the “issues” besetting this family therapy musical by co-creators Fiona Hogan and Courtney Kramer have little to do with psychology. The dysfunctional Clutterbuck family, a hornet’s nest of unspoken hostilities and resentments, attends a “family weekend” at a therapy clinic, summoned by youngest daughter Mona (Miranda Frigon), who is clinically depressed. Twitchy, obnoxiously flamboyant and feel-good shrink Dr. Gary (Ryan Matthew), cajoles the family members to “open up,” and before long, the venom is flowing like Napa Valley wine — and in song too. Grumpy and emotionally undemonstrative dad Harry (Michael Bryan French), favors Mona’s prettier but promiscuous sister, Violet (Kramer). Meanwhile, slacker ski-bum son Sport (John Bobek) desperately desires his father’s approval, but will never get it. Director Michelle Danner’s production is chaotic, with the sluggish dramatic scenes mashed up against peppy musical numbers, whose forgettable lyrics and melodies are poorly integrated with the overly talky bits. The work’s odd structure lurches from one family member’s half baked problem to the next in a way that undercuts sympathy for any of them. The play’s shortcomings are a pity too, as several performers offer powerful turns, including Bobek’s sweetly vulnerable slacker, Kramer’s troubled sex addict, and Eileen Barnett as the clan’s self-deceiving matriarch. The Mental Group and EDGEMAR CENTER FOR THE ARTS, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 26. (310) 392-7327. (Paul Birchall)


MONSTERS OF HAPPINESS For a decade now, through their Theatre Movement Bazaar company, Tina Kronis and Richard Alger have been reveling in the cultural detritus of the 20th century — while earnestly sifting through its artifacts for meaning. This latest outing finds them searching for happiness — or, rather, exploring the gestures and mythology that the search for happiness creates. The pair portray a Happy Man and Happy Woman living in the American Eden, a couple dressed in an array of fragmented costumes (sleeveless suit coats for Alger, stitched-remnant dresses for Kronis). Their thoughts and conversations are broadcast as voice-overs — a disarming pastiche of self-improvement affirmations, philosophical texts and lines from such film noir classics as Crisscross and Out of the Past. Alger’s character is smugly self-contained while Kronis betrays cracks in her confidence and optimism. (“I gave up on time a long time ago,” she sighs.) The 75-minute show consists of repeated and often-ritualized scenarios that dance against a backdrop of film clips and within an interactive video landscape (both shot by Michael Glover). Although their immaculate orchestration of rear-screen video projections, music and choreography may remind viewers of such 1980s art pleasers as Laurie Anderson and George Coates, co-creators Kronis and Alger maintain a playful intimacy with their audience and a genuine — rather than ironical — affection for the past, especially Soviet Constructivism, whose celebratory cinema and graphics are lovingly imitated here. 24TH STREET THEATER, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru July 14 (added perfs June 30 & July 7, 10:30 p.m.). (213) 745-6516 or www.­24thstreet.org. (Steven Mikulan)


N*GGER, WETB*CK, CH*NK All you need is three wonderful actors (Allan Axibal, Rafael Agustin and Miles Gregley) each chanting and performing a mocking dance to the horrible words in the title, and the power of hateful language evaporates. Vaguely echoing George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum, the show offers to dig beneath a parade of ethnic stereotypes via sketches and poetry. Its ode to assimilation and harmony among the subcultures strikes an idealistic chord. (What evidence is there really that any ethnicity in any county or country behaves well once in power?) The show has been touring for years now, packing in youth audiences. While watching it, I couldn’t wipe the grin of delight off my face. Steven T. Seagle and Liesel Reinhart direct. Speak Theater Arts at the IVAR THEATER, 1605 Ivar Ave., Hlywd.; Wed.-Sun., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m. (Sat., June 23, 10:30 p.m. perf part of Latino Laugh Festival); thru July 29. www.plays411.com/nwc. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.


{mosimage} SOJOURN AT ARARAT In its 20th-anniversary production, Gerald Papasian and Nora Armani’s performance of staged Armenian poetry features the exuberant, youthful and coquettish energy of actors Mary Kate Schellhardt and Korken Alexander, guiding us through writings from the 16th century (Nahapet Koutchak) to those by William Saroyan. The event traverses creation and destruction myths, erotic couplings and one particularly gripping riff on how the caprices of fate lead from the misunderstandings around a spilled drop of honey in a village shop to national genocide. The event lingers on exile and victimization — one diary entry bears witness to 20 naked Armenian maidens forced to dance while being flogged to death, and finally set on fire — Turks, Germans — it’s just a parade of conquistadors amid what might be called a savage love for the homeland. Under Nora Armani’s direction, canned folk songs tilt the performance toward cliché; however, when she relies on the power of the words, or of the actors singing behind various poems, the show sways into magic. The poems are like stepping stones, memories holding their ground in the rushing tide of history, thanks in large part to this performance, with its blend of the morbid, the coy and the saucy. FOUNTAIN THEATRE, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 12. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris)


{mosimage}TOYER Gardner McKay’s two-character suspense drama slowly evolves into a clever, modern variation on Grand Guignol. Psychiatrist Maude Christopher (Jennifer Pennington) is frightened — as well she might be. There’s a serial killer at large, known as the Toyer because he toys cruelly with his female victims, drugging, raping and lobotomizing them. And Maude has seen a voyeur outside her window. When there’s a late-night knock at her door, she’s on guard, but gullible enough — or sufficiently attracted — to admit the nice young man, Peter (Russell Sams), who assisted her when her car refused to start. He’s clearly not what he pretends to be, but is he an actor involving her in a sadistic improvisation, the voyeur who has been spying on her, the Toyer himself or all of the above? Their encounter is a delicately dangerous pas de deux and a sexually charged battle of wits. Pennington’s Maude is a mixture of vulnerability and ruthlessness, while Sams’ protean Peter relies on boyish charm to mask his ugly intentions. Director Martin Bedoian shapes a carefully modulated production, and Gardner’s play is intriguing, but too predictable and elegantly symmetrical to be convincing. Marc Haupert supplies the modestly handsome set. SIDEWALK STUDIO THEATRE, 4150 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 30. (818) 558-5702. (Neal Weaver)


WHITE TRASH CATHOLIC CIRCUS From the moment you walk up to the box office/confessional booth (complete with shiny tinsel curtains), you know you’re in for no ordinary evening of theater. To an ’80s soundtrack provided by DJ Matari 2600, writer-performer Amy Sebelius and her cohorts romp through episodes of sex, sin, guilt and redemption in this one-woman show (with six other actors). Before the performance “officially” begins, audience members are called up to spin the “wheel of chance” to choose which eight of the 12 sketches that comprise the show will be performed. The cast, ranging in appearance from Gene Simmons and Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, entertains the lively audience with a zany, irreverent and surreptitiously intellectual brand of humor. Between vignettes, members of the cast read from an oversize book of fairy tales, irreverently describing the gory details of real-life saints. Also interlaced with the episodes are Amy’s conversations with Jesus, a chain-smoking figure in plaid-shirt torn-jeans who swills beer and spouts profanity-laden platitudes. The cast has a spontaneous, self-aware humor reminiscent of the early days of Saturday Night Live, and Rory Cowan’s direction makes great use of the actors’ physicality within the confines of the limited playing space. GARAGE THEATRE, 251 E. Seventh Street, Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 14. (562) 433-8337. (Mayank Keshaviah)
click to flip through (3) (Photo by Marsian DeLellis)
  • (Photo by Marsian DeLellis)
   
 

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