Theater Reviews: Bury the Dead, Coriolanus, Inherit the Wind 

Also, Abigail's Party, The Bones of Lesser Men, and more

Wednesday, Aug 27 2008

ABIGAIL’S PARTY What might have been provocative in 1979, when Mike Leigh’s play first appeared, now feels dated. Beverly (Nikki Glick) — a happily childless, unhappily married woman at the start of her descent into middle age — and Laurence (Darren Richardson) — her unremarkable estate agent husband with a love for classical music and sandwiches — have the neighbors over for drinks. As gin and tonics go down, tensions come up. Playwright Leigh derived much of his work from improvisation, which makes for some pleasantly unexpected turns and subconscious outbursts. However, in revival, it really does reveal itself as a product of its time. Director Julian Holloway shapes this production well for the most part, but a conspicuously contemporary Schweppes bottle and pointless stage business for actors who have to engage themselves while others speak certainly distract from the main action. The cast is primarily strong, with a stellar performance from Phoebe James as a gregarious young party guest. And Charles Erven’s set delights in subtleties of the ’70s, though Graham Oakes’ sound design could actually use some touches of nuance. Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; from Sept. 7: Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (310) 477-2055. (Luis Reyes)


GO  THE BONES OF LESSER MEN Sure-handedly directed by L. Flint Esquerra, Yves Lola St. Vil’s play, in this world-premiere production, presents an engaging mix of sex and politics. Set in the 1990s at Elly’s Place, an African-American-owned diner in Brooklyn, the play focuses on an electoral race for governor that includes a viable black candidate, the much talked about but unseen Collins. Among the regulars at Elly’s Place are the youthful Brooklyn (William Christopher Stephens), who can hardly contain his enthusiasm for Collins, while the middle-aged Junior (Freedom) is skeptical of all politicians. When not cooking, Elly (Staci Ashley) provides a maternal influence, which extends to Collins’ mistress (Randa Walker). Early in the play, much of the uproarious humor emanates from Free (Carl Crudup), a teller of tall tales. But the hilarious, well-written banter of Act 1 gives way to something much darker in Act 2 when one of the characters appears with a series of escalating injuries and bruises. Director Esquerra handles the light and dark elements equally well, adding to the shock in Act 2. As with many plays set in diners or bars, playwright St. Vil includes various stock characters, including a street hustler (Antonio Ramirez) and a church lady (Barbara Barnes), but superb character development puts refreshing new twists on these archetypes. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (Added perfs Sept. 3 & 4, 8 p.m.) (323) 957-1152. (Sandra Ross)

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GO  BURY THE DEAD In Irwin Shaw’s 1935 expressionistic antiwar play, six soldiers, killed in combat in an unspecified war, stand up and refuse to be buried. At a time when the U.S. is still reeling from the effects of its wars in Vietnam and Iraq, Shaw’s play possesses a raw power, but it never lets us forget that it’s delivering a message. For the government, the recalcitrant corpses are first and foremost a public relations and morale problem. Soon, however, the dead men’s womenfolk are brought in to persuade them to lie down and submit to burial. In a massive but predictable set piece, each of the soldiers (Andrew Wheeler, John Pick, Brandon Hanson, Colin Golden, Jesse Luken and Brian Allman) is confronted with a wife, sister, girlfriend or mother, begging him to stop bucking the system. In a telling moment, one tough wife (Donna Jo Thorndale) asks her husband why he waited till he was dead to stand up and fight back. Matthew Huffman’s somber production is terrific, and so is his cast. The Depression-Era detail offers additional interest, but the piece remains more a potently vivid poster than a play. The Actors’ Gang, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 13. (310) 838-4264 or www.theactorsgang.com. (Neal Weaver)


CORIOLANUS Intermingling war veterans and theater professionals, director Stephan Wolfert has pared Shakespeare’s epic about the Roman warrior Caius Marcius (later dubbed Coriolanus) down to a comparatively lean two hours (with intermission) and fiddled with a bit of the plotting — most noticeably, the demise of the arrogant hero. He holds his own people (who haven’t served in the military) in open contempt. After many triumphant returns from battles to a starving populace, and at the urging of his mother, Volumnia (Adeye Sahran), Coriolanus (Daniel Kucan) runs for election as a Roman consul. Echoes of our own politics bounce around the stage as discussions of military experience hang in the air. Ultimately, they just ask the big guy to be polite to the commoners, which he can’t endure. Anticipating countless social revolutions to come, Shakespeare has the enraged consular officials ban their own war hero in the name of the people. Understandably, Coriolanus joins the enemy Volscians and leads the foreign army against his own “ungrateful” homeland. After Coriolanus’ mother successfully pleads with him to spare Rome, Shakespeare has the Volscians kill Coriolanus; but here, he falls on his own sword — not unlike Sophocles’ Ajax, who also became deranged from combat, pride and the urgings of a woman (the goddess Athena). In an outdoor park setting, Wolfert directs the play on three stages, with terrific amplification, enunciation, atmosphere and sense. The acting has more posturing than layering, so that it vaguely resembles a Tom Cruise flick. (Kucan bears some resemblance to the movie star.) Nice performances, however, by Michael Allen as Roman senator Menenius, Bruce Cervi as Volscian General Aufidius, and Sahran as Coriolanus’ tormented mother. West L.A. Civic Center, 1645 Corinth Ave., West Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (310) 428-6610 or www.wlanc.com. Veterans Center for the Performing Arts and the Los Angeles Area Veterans Artists Alliance. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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