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Theater Reviews: Wicked, Trying, Monsieur Chopin 

Monday, Aug 13 2007
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ALICE IN WONDERLAND THRU THE LOOKING GLASS Zombie Joe’s Underground presents Lewis Carroll’s dream with songs (musical score and lyrics by Christopher Reiner), as reimagined by Alice’s great-granddaughter (Jessica Amal Rice), by way of the drug-induced distortions of her offstage hippie mother. “Dream your own dreams,” Alice’s Sister (Jana Wimer) counsels the kid before Alice takes a nap, and we’re off. The premise here is Oz-like, but instead of journeying to meet the Wizard, our heroine seeks to murder the Queen of Hearts (Wimer) for having beheaded her sexual fantasy, The White Knight (Jackson Baker), in one of a frenzy of decapitations throughout the queendom. The 70-minute production’s arch and unmodulated presentational style becomes something of a shriek fest, removing all quiet wonder from wonderland and neglecting to emphasize many of the plot-turn signposts and gentler emotional textures embedded in the script. The piece nonetheless flies to dystopia on the cleverness and the whimsy of co-directors Denise Devin and Zombie Joe’s adaptation, in conjunction with their blazingly theatrical impulses that include Jeri Batzdorff’s hyperanimated costumes, and Wimer’s storybook gothic mural (with shades of Brueghel the Elder). This backdrop is painted across the theater walls, depicting pastures with leafless trees, their roots exposed as veins and capillaries, and a once-bucolic lake (mushrooms on the shores) now filled with little headless creatures floating in small pools of blood. ZOMBIE JOE’S UNDERGROUND, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 8. (818) 202-4120. See Stage feature next week. (Steven Leigh Morris)

CESAR & RUBEN Ed Begley’s spirited musical tribute to labor activist Cesar Chavez (Danny Bolero) and L.A. Times labor reporter Ruben Salazar (Mauricio Mendoza) — also news director for L.A.’s Spanish-language television station KMEX — begins in an eerie café in the afterlife. It’s here that the lives of the duo play out in panoramic fashion, with the help of video stills. Most of this two-act production essays Chavez’s story: his hardscrabble start as the son of an itinerant worker in Arizona, a childhood that was marred by racism and debilitating poverty, his vibrant family life and gradual rise to become one of the most powerful and influential labor leaders of the twentieth century — an ascent that placed him in the orbit of heavyweight politicos such as Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. In Act 2, we learn of Salazar’s tragic shooting by an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy during a riot at a 1970 Chicano Moratorium protest of the Vietnam War. (Salazar was mortally struck in the head by a tear-gas canister while he was taking a break in a restaurant; no charges were filed against the deputy.) For the sake of balance and the underlying reasons that these two men meet, more needs to be dramatized about the pioneering Latino journalist. Under Begley’s smart direction, Bolero and Mendoza are rock solid, and the lives of their characters unfold with compelling interest. The music (taken from extant ballads and pop songs) and lyrics are an enjoyable mix of styles: blues, ballad, salsa and mariachi, performed with clarity and flair, courtesy of musical director Ron Snyder and musicians Michael Alvarado, Joey Heredia, Rebecca Kleinmann and Rufus Philpot. NOHO ARTS CENTER, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru. Sept. 9. (818) 508-7101. (Lovell Estell III)

ENTERTAINING MR. SLOAN In 1964, Joe Orton’s then-shocking concoction — part A Clockwork Orange, part Oscar Wilde — set British and American theater on a jubilantly profane course. With all of the biting wit of his later farces, but little of the whimsy, Sloan slapped the English middle class hard in the face with its own moral hypocrisy. Mr. Sloan (Nicolas Levene) is a 20-year-old ne’er-do-well taken in by the sexually desperate 41-year-old Kath (Caroline Langford), much to the distaste of her tough-guy businessman brother, Ed (Ethan Fowler). Both end up falling for Sloan’s charms, but their lusts are endangered by information held by their father, Kemp (Clement von Franckenstein). While the four British performers speak with distinction and reveal their characters’ many layers, director Charles Marowitz has gutted the humor from the intensely dark comedy, leaving the actors wallowing in the horror and violence of the unsettling events around their characters, as though they’re in a family drama by Sam Shepard. At least Langford underscores her character’s repellent lies with complete, if momentary, sincerity. The relationship with her brother doesn’t quite jel because their ages are so far apart — she is playing younger than her own age and he seems like a kid with gray-hair makeup. But most disappointing is their relationship with Levene’s Sloan, who just doesn’t possess the breezy sex appeal required to manipulate everyone. He is by fits and starts charming, angry and sulky — but never smooth. MALIBU STAGE COMPANY, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 26. (310) 589-1998. (Tom Provenzano)

click to flip through (6) (Photo courtesy Zombie Joe)
  • (Photo courtesy Zombie Joe)
 

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