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Bust, Carnage, Say You Love Satan 

Also: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The $4 Million Giveaway and more

Monday, Feb 4 2008
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GO  BUST "Reveal no personal information," orders an organizer to prison volunteer Lauren Weedman in the return of her hilarious and brutally frank one-woman show. The chipper blonde is a goofball who would fess up to anything for a laugh, but her riotous anecdotes have an acid tinge. Pertly insensitive yet continually apologetic, Weedman uses humor as a deflection device — and she's smart enough to know it. Directed crisply and incisively by Allison Narver, Weedman admits she enlisted as an inmate life-coach partially because she wanted to be the prettiest girl in the room, and the joke has a whiplash honesty. As she skewers herself and the Through the Looking Glass logic of the California prison system, Weedman shows a spot-on ear for characters, bringing into sharp relief everyone from a meth-addicted prostitute to a candy-coated manipulator at Glamour magazine who persuades Weedman to sell her darkest secret — only to spin her shame into a public uproar. Though the characterization of herself as a narcissistic mess has you thinking she's got more in common with the women on the other side of the Plexiglas divide, after Weedman hits bottom and realizes she has to fight to survive, the Glamour disaster sinks her even lower. Yet we watch her claw back from the brink as she finds that sometimes comedy — and vulnerability — is strength. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; perfs Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru March 5. (213) 389-3856 or www.bootlegtheater.com. (Amy Nicholson)

 

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The Golden State

CARNAGE, A COMEDY Playwrights Tim Robbins and Adam Simon's ferocious satire on the hypocrisy of American televangelism crackles with philosophical awareness and imaginative stagecraft. Yet, even in director Beth F. Milles' tightly paced production, the play hasn't aged well, with a satire that inevitably feels not as relevant or as fresh as it was when the piece was first staged in 1987. Televangelist Cotton Slocum (V.J. Foster) is a corpulent, corrupt old preacher as fond of money as he is of saving the souls of the viewers of his regular church TV show. Wanting to raise even more money, Slocum commences a marathon "holy" walk through the desert — but disaster strikes, and Slocum is left alone, wondering if he is the only person left behind following the Rapture. One theme running through Robbins and Simon's work is how the clownishness of televangelists has lead to the wicked excesses of the neoconservatives. However, the piece's scattershot storyline — part heavy-handed tirade against religion and part symbolically overburdened surrealism — is messy and hard to follow, and the work's insistence on preaching to the converted undermines the parody's effectiveness. Still, the cast's perfect comic timing goes a long way toward enlivening the tired material. Foster's charismatic as the blowhard preacher, and Justin Zsebe is increasingly disturbing as his creepy, fundamentalist apprentice. Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 8. (310) 836-4264. An Actors' Gang production. (Paul Birchall)

GO  THE COMMON AIR
The Asylum Theatre, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 960-4443. A SoulArt and Elephant Stageworks Production. See Theater feature.

THE $4 MILLION GIVEAWAY
Set in a two-room suite at New York's Knickerbocker Arms, Art Shulman's "mystery" examines what large amounts of money make people do. Jesse Morgan (Chris Winfield), a terminally ill man who enjoys playing games, decides to give away his fortune, but the catch is that the four eligible recipients have to vote among themselves to decide which two will get $2 million each. His ex-wife, Jennifer (Renee Gorsey); his former employer, Karl (Richard Tirrell); his ex-best friend, Ken (Charles O'Hair); and a homeless man named Woodrow (Disraeli Ellison) vie for the prize, while Jesse and his nubile, young attorney Kimberly (Alyse Courtney) watch from the next room via television monitor. Though the characters are often stereotypically drawn and Act 1 is a bit of a snooze filled with obvious exposition, the appearance of Jesse's mentally impaired adult daughter, Emily (Trisha Hershberger), in Act 2 and a plot twist at the end of it raise the stakes and salvage the piece somewhat. Ellison provides most of the comedy by fully embodying his eccentric character, and Hershberger, who plays her role with touching sensibility, gives the piece heart. Kristina Lloyd's direction unfortunately lacks dynamism, and until the second act, Winfield's naturalistic set is the most captivating thing onstage. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 8. (818) 700-4878. (Mayank Keshaviah)

THE GOLDEN STATE
Northern California's Dell'Arte theater troupe gets physical again, this time with company member Lauren Wilson's modern spin on Moliere's The Miser. Here, the setting is poolside at the L.A.-area home of Gertrude Hopper (Joan Schirle), a wealthy skinflint who hates illegal immigrants (including the underpaid ones she employs) and who hatches an idea to make her two layabout adult children pay their way. This involves getting gay son Cubby (Tyler Olsen) to donate his sperm to fertilize the frozen eggs of Gertrude's sexagenarian golfing pal, Bunny Schimpf (John Achorn). The wombless Bunny won't have to carry the baby to term — under Gertrude's plan, that service would be provided by Gertrude's 39-year-old daughter, Sylvia (Barbara Geary). Swirling around this sometimes madcap, sometimes gross-out plot are romances, separated families and wildfires. For all its slapstick and social commentary, however, Wilson's surprisingly long play (nearly two hours' running time) hangs on only about 45 minutes of story and necessary dialogue. The rest of the show consists of extraneous scenes that politically pander to the chorus, and much of the production's physicality seems abrupt and unconnected from one moment to the next. The eight-member ensemble, directed by Michael Fields, has fun in this romp about greed, materialism and decrepit bodies, with Schirle being a real hoot as the demented reactionary who keeps her money closer to her than anyone could imagine. 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (800) 838-3006. A Dell'Arte Company production. (Steven Mikulan)

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