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Lack of Talent Showcase 

Beverly Winwood Presents

Monday, Aug 11 2008
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THEATER PICK  BEVERLY WINWOOD PRESENTS THE ACTORS SHOWCASE With her chrome-plated red bob, manicured nails and chiseled, toothy smile, private acting coach Beverly Winwood (Susan Yeagly) checks in industry guests for the second annual showcase of her students’ best scenes. Thad Ripple (Nat Faxon) sits beside her in a torso-revealing floral shirt and bushy Afro, circa 1972. “Are you with the industry?” he asks. “Cool, bro, enjoy the show,” he adds, with cringe-inducing familiarity. Before and after the showcase, the actors distribute their résumés in the lobby. (One cites a YouTube clip as an example of his experience. Other credits: “Film TV & Radio: Squirrel Season, Hunter; and Back Massage Techniques, Charles.” Entering the theater, the audience is offered free potato chips from a large bowl wielded by an actor/waiter, posted in the threshold. Danger and Lewis J. Poole (Jordan Black and Phil Lamarr) — who met while incarcerated in a “Scared Straight” program — eviscerate a Happy/Biff scene from Death of a Salesman with sudden bursts of inexplicable melodrama, bereft of all emotional sense and gilded with hollow posturing. Tim N. Gunn (Patrick Bristow) suffers a curse-laden and violent mental breakdown during his performance of the Abbot and Costello sketch, “Who’s on First?” when his scene partner, Pu Ping Chow (Karen Maruyama), bludgeons rhythm and sense with her halting, ill-timed delivery, which is distinguished by her meaningless grin — an attempt to mask both her terror and confusion. The 20 actors are uniformly brilliant lampoonists, and Tony Sepulveda’s staging rises above last year’s mere mockery of the individuals and their pointless ambition. In one of the evening’s highlights, The Captain (Tim Bagley) — a recent stroke victim confined to a wheelchair — recites with a nasal twang Tom’s play-closing monologue from The Glass Menagerie

while attempting to light three candles from a candelabra placed in front of his wheelchair at a distance requiring him to wince in pain through his recitation of Tennessee Williams poetical homage, while straining with every fiber of his being to plant a lighted match upon the candles. “Blow out your candles, Laura,” he intones, having finally accomplished his first task of lighting them. He blows, and blows and blows, approaching hyperventilation. The woman next to me almost asphyxiated herself from laughter. This is more than a cheap shot at talentless actors and the system that exploits them, which is certainly part of its charm; this is a physical comedy about reaching for the unreachable, one long, almost metaphysical, joke about failure. It has no respect, little dignity and does not redeem the human spirit in any way, whatsoever. It’s one of the funniest shows around. Groundling Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 25. (323) 934-4747. (Steven Leigh Morris)

BODY POLITIC Jessica Goldberg's thought-provoking drama explores the ugly cost of our war in Iraq, opening with a short but haunting scene at Walter Reed Hospital, where a crippled, blindfolded soldier (Jeremy Maxwell) is feebly trying to rap about his battlefield experiences as a means of catharsis. We then meet Wendy (Kristina Lear), an idealistic, antiwar screenwriter whose trip to the hospital to gather research about wounded soldiers is blocked by Capt. Gray Whitrock (Michael James Reed). The captain, a spit-and-polish military man, is a staunch conservative with a palpable disdain for "Hollywood liberals" and a battlefield injury (a prosthetic foot) he proudly boasts of. The pair engage in a spirited debate about the war, bringing the passions and commitments — as well as their frailties — these characters possess into sharp relief. Eventually, Wendy’s persistence is rewarded but not before she uncovers a painful-to-observe fault line in the relationship between Whitrock and his doting, pregnant wife, Lydia (Samantha Shelton). Goldberg’s characters possess a poignant simplicity and honesty that are skillfully blended with haunting psychological complexity. This makes judging them difficult, regardless of one’s feeling about the war. Chris Field directs with intelligence and draws fine performances from this cast, which includes Jeremy Maxwell as a bottom-line movie exec. Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave.; W. Hlywd.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., thru. Aug. 24. (800) 413-8669 An Echo Theatre Company production. (Lovell Estell III)

GO FREEDOM OF SPEECH In her solo show, actor Eliza Jane Schneider explains that she had to leave her student life at UCLA so that she could learn something. And leave she did, on a “grant from the LAPD” (she sued for a broken wrist incurred during a student protest of the first Gulf War; Schneider evidently won a settlement). In a decommissioned ambulance, Schneider roamed the U.S.A and just plain talked to just plain folks, rich and poor, all ethnicities, in order to capture their voices — from the Bible Belt to New York’s Lower East Side. She recorded them in order to impersonate them. (Schneider has built a career as a voice-over artist.). She performs in as though in the echoes of performance artist Heather Woodbury and actor Alex Lyras (whose one man protrayal of six characters around an airport played in Hollywood earlier this year). Schneider’s aim is to summon voices, which offer aural glimpses onto the human landscape of our nation. That landscape comes with veils of humor over chasm of religiosity and despair. One young man in the Bible Belt is chastised by his date for assaulting her with a peck on the cheek after he spent $150 on her, on meals and gifts. There’s something inextricably endearing about his clutch on his own wallet, a clutch he loosens for the sake of pleasing her, and his own dignity. When she snaps at him for his presumption, that innocent peck perhaps laden with deeper desires, he bears an expression of bewilderment that says more than any of his words. That much is a testament to Schneider’s performance, her ability to conjure a character through sounds and snippets of words. By design, the piece roams as much as Schneider did on her sojourn. It’s forever on the move. Like Schneider’s intepretations, it’s more eager to move on, as though from some fear of intimacy, than to settle in. This renders the performance a facile tour de force, the celebration of an actor’s technique in a show still distilling its larger meaning. Sometimes to gain a deeper understanding of a person or a place, you need to stick around a while. Sal Romeo directs. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 7. (818) 754-4264. (Steven Leigh Morris)GO JUST LIKE WHITE PEOPLE This world premiere from 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, the curiously named but well-established Asian-American improv troupe, is an eclectic collection satirizing stereotypes, with Eastern twists on Western paradigms, and some plain old zany antics. Most sketches are written by founding member Michael Chih Ming Hornbuckle, with a few contributed by long-standing members Peter J. Wong and Greg Watanabe, who are joined by guest stars Junko Goda, Kennedy Kabasares and Jully Lee. Highlights include “Louie’s American-Style Chinese Restaurant,” which skewers Chinese restaurants that sell out to American clientele; “21: The Movie,” a clever and necessary satire of Hollywood’s whitewashed casting practices; and “Asian-Pacific Heritage Month,” a mockumentary that pulls no punches in labeling the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Filipinos as, respectively, the “Jews, Germans, Irish and Blacks of the East.” Other sketches, like “Sammo Hung Pitch” and “Letter To A Friend,” rely on base humor but produced some of the biggest laughs of the evening. The troupe weaves in music and dance with “Jabbawabbee,” “Korean BBQ” and “Tech Support Musical.” These topical and creative sketches are, at times, uneven, but when they find their target, they are incisive and hilarious. The talented cast deftly executes numerous quick changes and even throws in a couple of barbs directed at the L.A. Weekly, making this reviewer wonder if his presence in the audience was acknowledged in true improv style. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 24. (818) 754-4500. http://www.18mmw.com (Mayank Keshaviah)

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