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EAGLE HILLS, EAGLE RIDGE, EAGLE LANDING are much more than mere tracts of real estate that looms sight-unseen over Brett Neveu’s comic send-up of middle-class complacency. For the play’s midcareer, middle-management friends and neighbors, Mike (Jon Amirkhan), Kevin (Johnny Clark) and Andy (Jeffrey Stubblefield), these housing developments are essential articles of faith that lend harmony to the men’s empty, prefabricated lives. When the men meet for their customary after-work beers at the local watering hole (finely executed by designer Danny Cistone), however, that harmony all-too-easily turns to discontent. Mike and Andy have already made the move to the more desirable Eagle Ridge. The strangely irritable Kevin, however, has doubts — doubts that soon threaten to undermine the men’s suburban house of cards. Director Ron Klier cleverly frames the comic complications as a kind of existential Three Stooges two-reeler (imagine Larry and Curly grappling with a suddenly self-aware Moe). To that end, the witless Amirkhan and Stubblefield remain hilariously impervious to the implications of Clark’s deepening crisis and eventual rebirth. But if the production more than meets its quota of laughs, Neveu ignores too many other potential voices (the men’s wives, for instance) to rack up much more than a straw-man critique. The result is a funny if slight entertainment with all the substance of a Dilbert cartoon. Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 15. (323) 960-7738 or www.plays411.com/eagle. VS.Theatre Company and Range View Productions (Bill Raden)
GO HOW CISSY GREW Susan Johnston’s powerful new play is structured as a pastiche of three family members’ memories, slowly filling in the puzzle of their traumatic lives. In West Virginia, an unmarried couple, Butch and Darla (James Denton and Erin J. O’Brien), are stuck in financial and moral poverty. This is all manifested in legal and illegal addictions, as the pair try to turn their lives around with the help of their daughter, Cissy (Liz Vital). A moment of inattention inflicts a wound that will haunt the three throughout their lives. Susan Johnston’s stark text, rarely punctuated with humor, is piercingly painful and beautifully wrought. The actors, including Stewart W. Calhoun as the various boys in Cissy’s damaged life, play each dramatic moment with conviction. Even their southern accents, which can so easily become generic and insulting, are rendered tenderly. Director Casey Stangl honors the desolate geography of the characters’ lives by stirring life from their bleakness. She keeps the production terse, but extremely well paced. The set pieces are deftly designed by Laura Fine Hawkes for multiple uses. Lighting by Trevor Stirlin Burk, paired with C. Andrew Mayer’s tense sound design, adds to the success of this elegant production. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (866) 811-4111 or www.elportaltheatre.com. (Tom Provenzano)
THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS A woman sitting a few seats down the row from me was completely amazed by Mimi Kennedy’s impersonation of the late, nationally syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers — not just the bouffant but the dead-on clanging midwest accent. Well, that’s a start. Now playwright David Rambo needs a play to back up Kennedy’s solo impersonation. Here, Landers spends a couple of hours sashaying around her Chicago study in 1975, eating chocolates when confronted with writer’s block and, during intermission, leaving us to take a bath. Gary Wissmann’s set is so detailed with multitudinous knickknacks, and photos, many of which go unused, it arouses the speculation that a more spartan and symbolic set would have justified the contrivance of Landers’ direct audience address. The evening’s pretext is that Landers is in the process of drafting a momentous letter to her readers announcing her divorce from her husband of 36 years — risky business for an advice columnist who has never counseled anyone to get divorced. Around this pretext are a series of anecdotal digressions about her husband, her daughter and her twin sister, rival “Popo,” who imitated her sister’s column with her own variation, “Dear Abby.” Our heroine rolls out her leftist credentials and how she came to overcome her own puritanical streak in a joint television interview with Linda Lovelace. But none of this is dramatic, it’s merely exposition in the style of “And then I wrote.” The possibilities for a real play rear themselves in Act 2, when Landers reveals the depth of homophobic bigotry that came from hostile replies to one of her columns supporting a gay teenager, and from the fury that came in responses to some of her well-intended advice that had adverse consequences. Yet our heroine brushes them both off with similar, sanctimonious disdain, as though bigots and victims of her bad advice were equals. Nothing legal they could do, she remarked of the victims — hardly an embrace of her responsibility to help people in distress. Somewhere in that responsibility, and her cavalier dismissal of it, lies a more penetrating drama yet to be written, something more closely resembling a play than a parade. Brendon Fox directs. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (626) 356-PLAY. (Steven Leigh Morris)