By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Theater Pick: EN UN SOL AMARILLO (MEMORIAS DE UN TEMBLOR) or IN A YELLOW SUN (MEMORIES OF AN EARTHQUAKE) Playwright-director César Brie and the Teatro de los Andes theater company from Bolivia have based their performance piece on a series of interviews they conducted with survivors of the devastating 1998 earthquake that struck the cities of Aiquile, Totora and Mizque and surrounding agrarian communities. I don’t mean to sound stone hearted in saying that episodes of shock and grief, as children are buried in sand and rubble, sound like commonplace sagas of woe — as does the indignation at how relief supplies and international funds got siphoned away by local distribution agencies. (Portrayals of local government officials are like commedia villains.) Even we insulated and self-absorbed Americans recognize how much can go wrong when fire and flood strike us, and what that says about human nobility and corruption, working side by side. The collage of testimonies (performed in Spanish by Luca Achirico, Daniel Aguirre, Gonzalo Callejas and Alice Guimaraes with projected English translations) hangs on the spine of the quake, the departure of refugees from Aquile, and their eventual return to a city that’s a shadow of its past. The beauty of this production lies in its skeletal theatricality, in the faces of the refugees upon their homecoming, staring into the audience. Without a word, we imagine what they see. Gonzalo Callejas’ set contains furniture pieces dangling on the ends of rope pulleys, door frames and tables and jingle and jangle as the rumble of the quake sounds from a sand-filled drum. An actor sprinkles sand into the figure of a child on a tabletop — the table gets turned on its side and the child dissolves onto the floor. This is the power of theater emanating from its most elemental source. The lament, the fury and their ensuing beauty are unimpeachable. Teatro de los Andes, Center Theatre Group and the International Latino Theatre Festival of Los Angeles at the KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. (no perfs Nov. 13-16 & Nov. 22; added perf Nov. 19, 8 p.m.); thru Nov. 22. (213) 628-2772.
BETTY GARRETT, CLOSET SONGWRITER With a supporting ensemble of seven, the 88-year-old Betty Garrett sings — and dances — through a musical revue. Garrett, who’s been writing songs her entire life, penned all of the lyrics. (The 28 very short songs are credited to numerous composers.) She may not sing every song, but Garrett does introduce each song from a chair on the sidelines. Many of the introductions make passing reference to key events in Garrett’s life: her hardscrabble childhood during the Depression, her marriage to Larry Parks and Parks’ subsequent persecution by HUAC during the Red Scare. She’s led a fascinating life, and co-directors Garrett and John Carter might consider cutting some of the songs and including more real-life stories from Garrett. Substituting for Lee Meriwether, Bridget Hanley does a fine job with the melancholy love songs. But Garrett herself sings one of the most memorable songs in the show, “Remember Me,” with music by her son Garrett Parks. While choreographer Devra Korwin has tailored the dance numbers to Garrett’s age, Garrett is still able to pull off a mean soft-shoe number. THEATRE WEST, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (323) 851-7977. (Sandra Ross)
THE GLORY OF LIVING “White trash” is a status that the low-rent Southerners in Rebecca Gilman’s bleak yarn aspire to climb up to. Lisa (Rachel Style), the 15-year-old daughter of a prostitute (Saige Spinney), runs off with a smooth-talking drifter named Clint (Martin Papazian), who soon embroils her in a world of rape, murder and cheap motel rooms. The story material could have easily been thrown away into a dismissive or caricatured vision of America’s lower depths, but Gilman finds humanity and something like humor, if not hope, in her diorama of predatory living. Director Carri Sullens’ ear is finely tuned to this harrowing play’s more nuanced moments, and Style is luminous as the scarred innocent, Lisa. VICTORY THEATRE CENTER, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 22. (818) 841-5421. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.
LOYAL WOMEN Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell takes us on an unsentimental tour of the “other” Ireland seldom glimpsed in theater — one that is Protestant and deeply loyal to Queen and Country. His play is set in a working-class neighborhood during a Christmas season. It begins shortly after Terry (Dan Conroy), who has served 16 years in prison for a politically motivated murder, returns to his wife, Brenda (Rebecca Marcotte), and to a Northern Ireland that is tenuously embracing a new era of reconciliation. Brenda, however, will have nothing to do with this blustering, unfaithful layabout, whose arrival coincides with new demands being made upon her by her superiors in the Ulster Defense Association — the Protestant counterpart of the IRA. Brenda is further put upon by Terry’s nagging invalid mother (Rebecca Wackler); a shrilly combative, unwed mother of a daughter (Amanda Deibert); and an amorous handyman (Barry Lynch). While Act 1 keeps us riveted by its unforgiving milieu and by the ax swings of angry dialogue, Act 2 is the place where Mitchell suddenly feels he needs to cut the color and start throwing in plot devices and character motivations. This abrupt change in tack doesn’t ruin the story by any means, but the concentration of conflict and confrontations makes the second half seem a bit overheated. Director Sean Branney gets strong and convincing performances from his actors, all of whom flawlessly handle their accents. THE BANSHEE, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 2. (818) 846-5323. (Steven Mikulan)
MACBETH Jeffrey Morris’ contemporary staging of the Bard’s Scottish play fails to give a satisfactory account of itself. The obvious intention here is to make some kind of commentary on the political situation in the U.S. — a stage marked red on one side and blue on the other, and a mockup of the Capitol in the background — but the more the play progresses, the more it becomes apparent that this concept just doesn’t work, simply because the connection is never made. The famous first scene with the three witches is reduced to a high-speed, glib monologue spewed out by Collins Reiter that has all the impact of dripping water. Macbeth (Jeff Holden) is here a war hero who kills President Duncan (Megan Morrison) and assumes power. The bulk of the play unfolds through a series of terribly awkward scenes that are as poorly staged as they are confusing. Holden’s performance is not at all convincing or polished. William Jennings as Banquo is charismatic and effective, while Wallis Herst is a smooth, delightful menace as the femme fatale Lady Macbeth. NOHO ACTORS STUDIO, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 11. (213) 926-2726. (Lovell Estell III) ROMEO AND JULIUS Writer-director Tess Smith may have been aiming for theater of the absurd, but the result is merely silly and exasperating. Romeo (Wil Bowers) and Julius (Josh Kayne) are gay, but they are so deeply closeted and/or commitment shy that they must have a practice wedding at the Heavenly Chapel in Las Vegas, presided over by Elvis Presley (Alex Gonzalez), with Alice B. Toklas (Pamela Van Zandt), Gertrude Stein (Teresa Berkin) and Allen Ginsberg (David Anthony Hernandez) dancing attendance. Julius, we’re told, is the son of The Donald, who is the most active offstage character ever: A murderous homophobe, he has seduced and impregnated Paris Hilton (Stefany Northcutt). To provide a father for her child, Paris marries Julius, but, embittered by discovering her mother and Donald in flagrante delicto, she performs an auto-abortion with a kitchen knife. At the end, everybody (including Paris) turns out to be dead, and this, supposedly, is heaven — which makes hell seems infinitely preferable. Every aspect of this farrago is embarrassingly ham-fisted and woefully inept. The script suggests an X-rated old-time radio sitcom, or a disastrously misfired SNL sketch; but you can’t blame the actors — nobody could make this material work. HOLLYWOOD UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (323) 960-5521. (Neal Weaver)
SUBURBAN SHOWGIRL “If you find your passion — that’s a gift!” claims writer-performer Palmer Davis in her sprightly, if slight, solo show. By her own admission, Davis should consider herself lucky, as she has managed to live her entire life embracing and honing her passion — e.g., the art of dance. In her autobiographical monologue, Davis recounts stories of a California girlhood in which her parents first dragged her to ballet class in an attempt to keep her from “hanging out at the beach smoking pot.” She then describes becoming a pro dancer in music videos, taking a brief turn as a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, and appearing in the national tour of a Broadway show. The vignettes are also liberally peppered with dance interludes, as Davis frequently lets loose, one moment with a gorgeous balletic pirouette, next with a glamorous Vegas-style choreographed kick line (of one). Director Leslie Welles commendably brings structure and energy to the genial work, which is otherwise as light as the gauze in Davis’ showgirl costume. Davis’ acting occasionally falters — her singing voice, which at times strains to hit the notes, has little of the range and vigorous training of her dance numbers. Also, the lack of conflict in Davis’ narrative inevitably makes portions of the piece seem unintentionally self-absorbed. Still, when Davis gives in to her passion, the show soars — sometimes literally. THEATRE UNLIMITED, 10943 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; thru Nov 17. (323) 960-7780. (Paul Birchall)
TAKING SIDES Does a celebrated artist have a responsibility to speak out when his or her country behaves immorally? And how much is the pursuit of justice colored by the prejudices of the pursuer? Playwright Ronald Harwood explores these challenging issues in his polemical drama based on the life of German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler (Benton Jennings), who remained in Germany during the Third Reich, reportedly helping many Jews escape while at the same time basking in Hitler’s favor. After the war, the Allies investigated his ties to the party. Harwood’s polarizing script sets up a pretrial interrogation between the suspected collaborator and American Army Major Steve Arnold (James Sharpe), a former insurance salesman who responds to Beethoven’s music as so much noise. Interrogating with ruthless zeal, Arnold brushes aside first-person testimony in Furtwängler’s favor and ignores the admiration and growing sympathy that both his aide (understudy Brian Lennon) and secretary (Enci) manifest for him. Staged by director Michael Brainard, the production is dominated by Sharpe’s strong, salty presence. Unfortunately, the rest of the ensemble, several of them burdened with shaky German accents, come across as either too tentative or way over the top. (Even Sharpe gets louder rather than deeper as the conflict intensifies.) Nonetheless, watching the character of Furtwängler struggle, it’s hard not to do as the play’s title suggests — to take sides — that is, to condemn him, or to wonder if oneself would have displayed a more discerning courage under such circumstances. SkyPilot Theatre Company at the SIDEWALK STUDIO THEATRE, 5150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (800) 838-3006. (Deborah Klugman)