Theater Reviews: Of Mice and Men, The Dying Gaul 

Also, Mask, The Lost Plays of Tennessee Williams

Monday, Mar 24 2008

THE ALL-FEMALE 1929 SKIDOO REVIEW In writer-director Eugene H. Butler’s sentimental variety show, Meme (Audrey Marlyn), a former vaudeville star, and her great-granddaughter Jordanna (Jenna Zillman) visit the elder’s theater the day before it’s to be torn down to make way for a Starbucks. After a grating stretch of exposition where Jordanna ’fesses ignorance of Jack Benny, Playbill and the Great Depression, Meme closes her eyes and the curtain rises. Butler doesn’t initially make a strong argument for vaudeville’s right to life; the opening ditty’s high point is a girl pretending to be a rooster. Yet the cast has able voices and energy to spare. Some bits are too shrill for the small space and the dancing is tentative, but the comedy skits perk up the act, particularly a cornball serial melodrama about a wife (Marian Tomas Griffin) who ditches her broke husband (Heather Wood) for the landlord (Kristi Leigh Snyder). That back then white women sang the blues was news to me, given that two years earlier Al Jolson slipped on blackface to do the same. Nevertheless, nimble piano player Billy Revel plinks along without missing a beat. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 13. (818) 506-0600. (Amy Nicholson)

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  • The Dying Gaul

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The Dying Gaul

Ed Kreiger

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The Lost Plays of Tennessee Williams ("The Palooka")

 GO  CULTURE CLASH IN AMERICCA In a retreat from their starkly political works, Water & Power and Chavez Ravine, the Clash are back with lighter but no less important fare. Their fast-moving sketch comedy skewers and celebrates America’s multiple cultures, while ultimately proving, without irony, that we are all one, as in “E Pluribus Unum.” Whether enacting a married Cuban-Nordic couple from Miami, a lesbian pair from the Bay Area or a day laborer looking for work at the Home Depot, Richard Montoya, Herbert Siguenza and Ric Salinas deliver hilarious comedy without ever disparaging the humanity of their characters. Their subjects are created in three dimensions. This outing, devised to focus on Orange County, is a delightful riff on the disparate individuals and communities that make America such a fascinating place. They point out, interestingly and perhaps accurately, that it is only those born in the USA who have a negative take on the nation. Every non-native in this swirling evening longs to become a legal part of the legendary freedom and opportunity that the Constitution and American folklore promise. Under the gentle and generous direction of David Emmes, the humor is intense and never cynical. South Coast Repertory Theatre, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Wed.-Sun., 7:45 p.m.; mat Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 6. (714) 708-5555. (Tom Provenzano)

THEATER PICK  THE DYING GAUL Craig Lucas’ decade-old play, set in 1995, receives a commendable L.A. premiere under Jon Lawrence Rivera’s taut yet compassionate direction. Robert (Patrick Hancock) is a screenwriter about to sell his first script. Hollywood producer Jeffrey (Ken Arquelio) wants to buy Robert’s screenplay — if Robert, who recently lost his companion to AIDS, will heterosexualize his gay-themed love story. We soon learn two lessons: A million dollars cuts away a lot of gay pride, and macho movie producers are never what they seem. The fire behind the play, though, is Jeffrey’s wife, Elaine (Mary-Ellen Loukas), a pensive beauty who becomes obsessed with Robert. Using information purloined from Robert’s psychiatrist (Nick Salamone), she impersonates the screenwriter’s dead lover in Internet chat-room conversations with him. Lucas’ play is a funny tragedy peopled with intelligent figures who make stupid decisions. Rivera’s actors display an emotional grace even as their characters unravel — Arquelio especially exudes the dark intensity of a man who naturally deceives himself and others in pursuit of what he believes is true. “You can do anything you want,” he tells Robert, “as long as you don’t name it for what it is.” Gary Lee Reed’s simple set makes efficient use of upstage sliding panels, though the stage’s center of gravity will appear seriously distant for audience members closest to the theater’s entrance. Bonnie Bailey Reed deserves credit for recreating a world, now merely 13 years ago, that seems so distant because of its brick-sized cell phones and double-floppy-drive laptops. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 pm.; thru Apr 19. (323) 960-7745. A Master Class Players Production. (Steven Mikulan)  

 THE ENTERTAINER The NoHo London Music Hall, 10620 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 20. (818) 762-7883. See Stage feature.

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