GO ADAM BAUM AND THE JEW MOVIE See Theater feature. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (no perfs July 4 weekend); thru July 20. (323) 960-4442 or www.plays411.com/jewmovie.
GO DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD Bert Royal’s “Peanuts”-inspired comedy reunites some familiar folks from the popular comic strip for some high school fun and misadventure. C.B. (Joseph Porter) is filled with doubt and dread after the death of his famous beagle, and begins to puzzle over whether or not there is a heaven. His identity-challenged sister (Andrea Bowen) offers more ridicule than sympathy or insight, so who better to ask than Van (Jaden Leigh, who even looks like Linus), who unfortunately has smoked his famous security blanket and frequently hits the bong. C.B.’s high school crew includes seductive meanies Tricia (Christine Lakin) and Marcy (Lauren Robyne), and bully boy Matt (Nick Ballard), who, despite his tough-guy, hip-hop demeanor, is deathly afraid of germs. And just when things become over-the-top goofy, a dark cloud settles over the crowd when Schroeder (Wyatt Fenner) embroils the friends in a dustup over sexual preferences. True to the spirit of the cartoon, Royal’s script skillfully delves into some weighty issues, such as self-love and loathing, identity crisis, sexual politics and bigotry. Even more remarkable is the wonderful balance maintained between the whimsy and the social commentary. Royal poignantly captures the angst, folly and raging hormones that surge through teenagers. Even an ugly event toward the end of the play is glossed over with a dose of scintillating humor. Nick DeGruccio’s exceptionally fine direction leads to sharp, well-modulated performances. Tom Buderwitz’s set design, consisting of a barrage of poster, cartoon and album cutouts, also deserves praise. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m. (no perf July 4); thru July 6. (323) 960-7774. (Lovell Estell III)
GO THE IMPOSTOR “In Mexico, one starts from the beginning every day,” explains Cesar (Luis Avalos), a poor history professor, to his wife (Blanca Araceli) and two adult children (Lorenzo Callender and Elizabeth Duran), whom he uprooted from Mexico City to carve out a new life in a rural village. He’s more right than he knows. When a Harvard researcher (Gerard Marzilli) blows into town asking about Cesar Rubio, the lost hero of the Mexican Revolution, the unemployed scholar passes himself off as the great man, on a whim. Rodolfo Usigli’s conscientious 1937 drama follows as the forces of politics — good and sinister — capitalize on his sudden fame, rebranding his modesty as “unexplained magnetism,” and elevating the man considered a loser by his family into a viable candidate for governor. Usigli asks if the decent are doomed to mediocrity; the only difference between the ignored and the triumphant is the public’s need to believe. Despite his lie, Cesar will still be the government’s most minor hypocrite. Translated and staged by Avalos, the 70-year-old play investigates a timeless theme, though the production is held back by rushed dialogue and an overstated third act. Still, when Cesar stands up to death threats from his crooked rival, Navarro (Armando Di Lorenzo), the audience feels the ache from the disillusion of Cesar’s idealistic son, so disgusted by his father’s fib that he refuses to recognize the man’s genuine strength. The New LATC, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 22. (213) 489-0994, Ext. 107. An Americas Theatre Arts Foundation production. (Amy Nicholson)
RETURN Writer-lyricist Sonia Levitin’s musical (written with composer Kevin Anderson) about the exodus of Ethiopian Jews to Israel is a work with so much heart, it seems almost churlish to find fault with director Donald McKayle’s halting and at times overearnest staging. The play tells the story of a tribe of African Jews living a hard life in the mountains of Ethiopia for the past 2,000 years. The first scene, in which a pair of elderly African “yentas” meet to debate a possible engagement, is hysterical. After a chance meeting with a pair of American Jewish tourists, beautiful village maiden Desta (Terry Norman), her older brother, Joas (Jermel Nakia), and their younger sister, Almaz (Marcella Lewis), decide to make the journey across the border to claim Israeli citizenship as part of the “Law of Return.” Along the way, they’re forced to heart-rending sacrifices. The topic of the evacuation of the Ethiopian Jews makes for intrinsically engrossing subject matter. Sadly, though, Levitin’s book could use a severe pruning to cut a number of extraneous incidents, while McKayle’s ponderous blocking has the performers standing around doing nothing for extended sequences. Still, scattered amid flatly presented patches are some vibrant musical numbers that amalgamate The Lion King and Fiddler on the Roof in an ambitiously subtle mix of African rhythm and Hebrew melodies. In her character’s farewell to her native village, Norman’s “How Can I Say Goodbye” is quite powerful. Other wonderful singing turns come from Nakia’s Joas, and also from Paula Bellamy-Franklin, playing an old village grandmother who makes the long journey. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru June 29; perfs resume July 10-20. (310) 392-7327. (Paul Birchall)