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GO NORTH PHILLY In his solo performance, Ralph Harris portrays himself as a child through young adulthood, while also offering impersonations of his eccentric family, culminating in the 94th birthday party of his grandfather. Stella Adler Theater, 6773, Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor; Wed., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 17. (323) 960-7612. See Stage feature.
GO PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD/THE SHADOW OF THE GLEN Lying within the “great gap between a valiant story and a dirty deed” is the core idea of John Millington Synge’s 1907 classic comedy, Playboy of the Western World, presented by Galway’s Druid Theatre with Synge’s The Shadow of the Glen. Both plays were performed together over the weekend at UCLA. The plays unfolded within Francis O’Connor’s primal rustic set, with its dirt floor and sparse wooden furniture, enclosed by looming stone walls that dwarfed the actors, as though they were Beckettian insects, groveling. This effect was mitigated somewhat by shadowlike crossbeams against the back wall that formed a kind of crucifix, and drew the eye down to the dirt floor. Beyond that, there was little abstraction, just perfectly tattered rags and the frayed dignity of Kathy Strachan’s costumes, and the crisp elegance of director Garry Hynes’ realistic stagings. In Playboy, a fearful, dimwitted young farmer, Christy Mahon (Simon Boyle), takes refuge in a reclusive tavern in County Mayo, only to find the locals struck by his story of having just killed his father, which he renders ever more dramatically with each telling. That the story of such a deed is so glorified forms the play’s glorious perversity. With the arrival of Christy’s father (Tom Hickey) — “his skull bloodied from the wound inflicted by his son” — that perversity twists like a condemned man from a noose. After Christy is implicated as a liar, he tries to actually commit the deed he’s been boasting of, which only further enrages the townsfolk, who loathe the deed as much as they loved the story of it. Lovely performances by the ensemble, from Boyle’s scampering, buck-toothed Christy to Sarah-Jane Drummey’s interpretation of the proprietor’s daughter, with a temper and yearning for excitement that’s as fiery as her shock of red hair. Marcus Lamb loomed as though on stilts, portraying Pegeen’s “afeared-of-everything” would-be suitor, Shawn Keogh, and Catherine Walsh’s Widow Quinn, who has outlived all her children and destroyed her husband, strides the stage like an army lieutenant. The Shadow of the Glen opened the bill as a kind of warmup, sharing Playboy’s story of an old man returning from his alleged death. With echoes of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid, Dan Burke (Hickey) lies on a bed in an isolated hovel, watched over by his embittered wife, Nora (Walsh, here with softer edges and a smaller stride than in her portrayal of the Widow Quinn, yet feisty nonetheless). We learn of the old man’s demise when Nora speaks of it to a visiting Tramp (Peter Gowen). When Nora leaves for a moment, the dead man rises, parched with “drought.” His game is a test of his “bad wife’s” loyalty. The game is as cruel and pointless as in Playboy. Both plays employ rapturously beautiful words to envelop the blistering darkness of the people who speak them. UCLA Live at UCLA, Ralph Freud Playhouse. Closed. (Steven Leigh Morris)
SAVAGE WORLD Inspired by the story of an African-American boxer wrongfully convicted of murdering a white, Jewish couple, playwright Stephen Fife’s sprawling melodrama revolves around the efforts of a reporter named Sol Eisner (Erik Passoja) to establish the athlete’s innocence. The play starts in the present, with the now middle-aged Eisner struggling to provide direction for his university-educated son (Nate Geez), inexplicably hostile and rebellious. It then flashes back to the ’70s, to his meetings with the accused, named Calvin ”Savage” James (Vincent M. Ward), and his labyrinthine search for evidence of the man’s innocence. The juicy core of the conflict is whether Savage, a proven liar, thief and abuser of women, is indeed not guilty. But instead of exploiting this ambiguity with the depths of ferocity it deserves, the nearly three-hour piece meanders through a plethora of manipulated subplots and extraneous characters more suitable to a convoluted B-movie police drama than an intense character-driven drama. Ultimately, the production gains traction from Passoja’s fastidiously calibrated portrait of a solidly middle-class Jewish intellectual — somewhat nerdy — willing to take risks for his principles. The many solid supporting performances include Latarsha Rose as Eisner’s love interest; Tom Badal as his Uncle Jack, whose support Sol craves; and Ernest Harden Jr., as a pivotal witness whose story keeps changing. As Savage, Ward needs more complexity and volcanic heat. Subpar lighting contributes to the production’s lack of focus. L. Flint Esquerra directs. Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (323) 960-7788. (Deborah Klugman). A MET Theatre and Stealfire Productions production.