Theater Reviews: Dogs of Baghdad, Famine Plays and More | Theater | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Theater Reviews: Dogs of Baghdad, Famine Plays and More 

Also Five Course Love, Lansky, Out Late

Monday, Jul 2 2007
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{mosimage} THE DOGS OF BAGHDAD After a bombing attack, a small U.S. Army platoon finds itself holed up and isolated near an Iraqi village, unsure whether the locals are friends or foes (or both) and what they’ve done with the platoon’s weapons. Two soldiers are maimed: Padilla (Carlos Arrelano) has a leg wound that’s starting to fester; Smitty (Leon Fazzio) groans from something broken inside his torso. Despite the counsel of a local guide, Crutch (Alex Khastoo), who finds himself increasingly inconsequential, shit-kicker Nubs (Chris Bouffard) urges that they make a run for it, while their agonized lieutenant (Courtney Geigle) — his authority challenged — insists that they wait for help. From this moment of crisis, Gary Jacobelly’s episodic drama spins back to the past, with scenes of recruitment and training, and ahead to homecomings in America, tainted by traumatic tress disorder. The playwright spent much time listening to his Vietnam vet relatives, which may explain why his dialogue is so emotionally and viscerally charged with a kind of surreal realism. Director Sean Fenton elicits terrific performances, including a fine turn by Frantz St. Louis as the platoon’s one African-American grunt, Carter. Documentary footage, screened via rear-screen projection during the pre-show, goes underused during the play itself; a more robust use of multimedia would have energized some momentum-draining monologues and the structure-free zones caused by the play’s episodic shape-shifting. That said, the striking production demonstrates emotional depth and a howling lament for those who find themselves serving both the devil and Halliburton in the name of righteousness. PROMENADE PLAYHOUSE, 1403 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 15. plays411.com (Steven Leigh Morris)


DOUBTING THOMASON A small, impoverished and semi-talented L.A. theater company (you’ve seen them) learns it hasn’t the rights to stage Killer Joe — two weeks before its scheduled opening. Rather than lose the cast and set that had been assembled for the Tracy Letts play, Thomason (playwright Chris Brewster) sets out to speed-write a wholly original work called Murdering Ted that will incorporate Kill Joe’s production elements, complete with a man-kissing-man scene and some strategic nudity. What follows is a play-within-a-play in which various company members vie for Thomason’s attention to shape his play in their favor. There’s sexy starlet Kate (Sarah Whalen), laid-back Jake (James Arlen), gay-acting snob Teddy (Jason Lovett) and insecure director Lynette (Bree Pavey). We watch them elbow each other out of the spotlight, then rehearse Thomason’s dreadful script. Unfortunately, Murdering Ted is a bad play within a mediocre play. Despite his promising idea and an energetic cast directed by Steve Jerrard, Brewster hasn’t found a way to express terrible writing with wit. Instead, the evening unfolds as an extended improv that never finds its edge. TWO ROADS THEATER, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 14. (818) 795-0690 or www.­plays411.com/doubting. (Steven Mikulan)


EAVESDROPPER Touted as “L.A.’s longest running new play,” Andrew Libby’s comedy is little more than a clunky, slightly funny mess. The mise en scène is an apartment where a large, clamant group of young people have gathered for some good times. But unbeknownst to the revelers, an uninvited guest (Pedro Shanahan) slips in and hides behind the shower curtain, his sinister presence embellished by a Mohawk hairdo, Goth makeup and drug-addled stare. The scenario is redolent of a wild frat party, with plenty of sex, drugs, booze and hell-raising. From his perch in the tub, the night-crawling voyeur is privy to all the naughty things that are said and done, and he occasionally pops out onstage to tell a joke with gusto. Unfortunately, this all gets old rather quickly, and the seat squirming starts in earnest. The show features a rotating cast of 50-plus, who can’t do much good with this moribund material. No director is credited, and the reason is obvious. Theater 6470 at the Complex, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd. Fri.-Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru July 29. (323) 365-8305. (Lovell Estell III)


{mosimage}PICK  FAMINE PLAYS  In playwright Richard Caliban’s chilling scenario, the United States is reduced to a desolate wasteland. Victims of an apocalypse of titanic proportion (its nature is never defined), nine isolated survivors traipse across the barren landscape, each gripped by their individual form of madness. The nomads include a former businessman named Fleet (Trevor H. Olsen), blinded by hooligans and now forced to depend on a simple-minded brute named Stub (Monroe Makowsky) for survival; Rosie (Julia Prud’homme), an ex-topless dancer who found Jesus and salvation with the birth of her daughter and who is pursued for her breast milk by a renegade tomboy (Mandi Moss); and Mrs. Klinger (Judith Ann Levitt), a plucky elderly woman caring for her hapless, demented husband (John MacKane). At first the multiple scenarios seem bewildering, but as the play progresses, its various threads coalesce, culminating in an explosive catharsis. Amanda McRaven directs with imagination and insight, capitalizing on multiple opportunities to heighten tension and humor. The production fuses the talents of set designer Jeanine Nicholas, lighting designer Karyn Lawrence and sound designer Corinne Carrillo, who overcome space limitations and project Caliban’s bleak, chaotic vision. Prud’homme, spotlighted in some of the production’s most compelling moments, stands out among a committed ensemble. And Olsen, the brainiest of the characters, creates a dynamic presence as a supercilious intellectual and would-be poet in a society on the brink of extinction. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 4. (323) 856-8611.  (Deborah Klugman)


{mosimage} FIVE COURSE LOVE As summer slams into Southern California, well-performed piffle, such as Gregg Coffin’s dating musical, has its lazy appeal. Coffin wrote book, music and lyrics for his five scenes, each set in five different eateries, which each provide a backdrop (and matching musical style) for the array of broad romantic scenarios. These range from triangles of jealousy and revenge involving mobsters (in an Italian reastaurant, of course) to a S&M saga with a dominatrix and a pair of boy toys (you guessed it, in a German supper club) to a ’50s diner for a mini-Grease reinvention. Perry Lambert plays the five waiters, each summoned to the off-stage kitchen by the sound of dishes crashing, leaving the romantic couple (Christopher Carothers and Jennifer Shelton) to work through whatever needs to be worked through. Daniel Wheeler’s flexible set comes laced with pink valentines, which — combined with Kim DeShazo’s era-indicative costumes — gives you an idea of how broadly director caryn desai has staged the comedy. This does allow rare moments of tenderness, such as Shelton’s Dietrich-esque “Gretchen’s Lament,” to settle in deeper than they otherwise might have, despite the production’s overarching, winking mockery. Coffin’s music is quite seductive, thanks also to the live three-piece band (Janice Rodgers Wainwright, Ron Cindrich and A.K.), Wainwright’s musical direction and the singers’ snappy energy. International City Theatre at the LONG BEACH PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 15. (562) 436-4610 or www.ictlongbeach.org. (Steven Leigh Morris)


LANSKY While there can be a fine line between hero and villain, making a sympathetic character out of mobster Meyer Lansky is a tall order. Yet Richard Krevolin and director Joseph Bologna’s one-person play almost pulls it off. With partners and associates among the “who’s who” of early-20th-century organized crime, Lansky built a formidable and ruthless organization, though you wouldn’t know that from the script. Ensconced in Wolfie’s, a Miami café, Lansky (Mike Burstyn) describes himself as an “honest businessman” as he regales us with his 1970s effort to immigrate to Israel as a returning Jew — and to escape constant FBI hounding. He also relates snippets of his life, from facing ethnic discrimination as a Jewish immigrant in New York to his friendships with Siegel and Luciano as they fulfilled “the desire of a thirsty public” during Prohibition — and later his aiding the U.S in WWII and in Israel’s struggle for independence. While Burstyn makes an ingratiating Lanky, the script ignores or downplays Lansky’s more nefarious exploits. Still, Lansky’s astute description of America as a “whorehouse,” where money rules everything, gives credence to his assertion that he and his cronies made money the best way they knew how, given the prejudice they faced. ODYSSEY THEATRE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 22. (310) 477-2055. (Martín Hernández)


{mosimage}OUT LATE Evan (Evan Ramsey), a brash TV host with daddy issues, flirts with his urologist, Charles (Nic d’Avirro), prompting the 65-year-old physician, husband and father to come out to his dysfunctional daughter (Meghan Maureen McDonough), his wife of 37 years (Judy Jean Berns) and, most of all, to himself. Tim Turner’s play sets out a forest of emotions but doesn’t allow the audience to explore them; rather, every scene is interrupted by monologues that force his characters to spill their guts about feelings of anger and confusion that would be stronger intuited by the audience than explained by the characters. Yet Evan and Charles’ love match is left bewildering: Beyond the age gap, they seem to regard each other as a suspicious alien species with terrible musical taste. Under David Galligan’s direction, however, the wildly talented cast smooths over the kinks with grace — particularly Berns, as the wife who sacrificed her life, energy and dreams to a lie, and d’Avirro, whose handsome, heavily wrinkled face is lit up by a shy blush as he stumbles around Evan’s apartment like a newborn colt. MACHA THEATRE, 1107 N. Kings Road, W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 5. (323) 960-7829. (Amy Nicholson)


{mosimage} THE THOUSANDTH NIGHT In a production that’s been making the rounds since the early ’90s, Carol Wolf’s play about an actor desperate to avoid being deported to a Nazi death camp is captivating, due primarily to Ron Campbell’s tour de force performance as 38 characters, and to Jessica Kubzansky’s superb direction. After the French Resistance blows up the train tracks, an actor, Guy de Bonheur, manages to slip off the train. Desperate to convince the French gendarmes that his deportation is all a big mistake, he acts out various stories to prove that his work isn’t subversive — the reason he’s been arrested. To show the guards the harmlessness of his work, and hopefully save his life, he, like Scheherazade, performs stories from The Arabian Nights. With Campbell’s lightning-quick character changes, the stories are entertaining and quite humorous. However, despite de Bonheur’s talents as an actor, it’s gradually revealed that he did nothing when others in his company were being arrested. In one instance, he refused to sign a paper denying an actor was Jewish, believing that art and politics shouldn’t mix. Wolf avoids easy didacticism as de Bonheur slowly comes to the realization that his lack of action has sealed his own fate. Susan Gratch’s grim set and John Zalewski’s bleak but low-key sound design are constant reminders of the train to Buchenwald waiting outside. COLONY THEATRE, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru July 15. (818) 558-7000. (Sandra Ross)


{mosimage}TWENTIETH CENTURY Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1932 madcap comedy (adapted by Ken Ludwig) is typical of its time — blending cynicism with sentimentality and the obvious with the predictable. After a series of disastrous flops, theatrical producer–director–con man and would-be Svengali Oscar Jaffe (Henry Olek) needs his hammy, self-dramatizing former lover and protégé, Lily Garland (Susan Priver), to save his financial neck. Lily has made it big in Hollywood, and her signature on a contract might restore Oscar’s cash flow. When he discovers she’s traveling from Chicago to New York on the luxurious Twentieth Century Limited train, he books the adjoining compartment in hopes of regaining her affection, talent and bankability. His efforts are hindered by a gaggle of familiar stereotypes: Oscar’s hard-drinking Irish manager (Shelly Kurtz), his loyal gal Friday (Alison Blanchard), an escaped lunatic (Gary Ballard) with messianic leanings and, improbably, the bearded Christus (Eric Johnson) from the Oberammergau Passion Play. It’s all, including Rick Sparks’ inventive direction, a broad, heavy-handed, over-the-top exercise in nostalgia. Set design team DC2 (Danny Cistone and Davis Campbell) has created a clever and wonderfully detailed art-deco train, and Shon LeBlanc’s handsome costumes provide period flavor. A filmed prologue includes vintage newsreel footage, and an ancient Merrie Melodies cartoon called “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile.” Surprise Productions at THE LILLIAN THEATRE, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., thru Aug. 18. (323) 960-4441. (Neal Weaver)
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