New Theater Reviews: The School of Night, The Joy Luck Club 

Thystes' Feast, and more

Wednesday, Nov 19 2008

BEAUTY OF ASHES Writer and star Peres Owino’s furious semibiographical poetry and dance piece about female victimization initially argues that for rape victims, the only way past the pain is whoring, being hanged or suicide. Owino’s women and girls span centuries, from a modern-day prostitute and an African princess sold into slavery to a 6-year-old hiding under the stairs; all are united by Owino’s committed portrayal of their suffering. As directed by Ayana Cahrr, supporting dancers Katy O’Toole, Nicholas Utley and Mecca Andrews (the play’s strong, tall choreographer who has the arm span of a condor) hiss “bitch” and “slut” while slinking across the womb painted on the floor, then simulate Owino’s true-life horrors behind a translucent curtain. In Owino’s most searing scene, she argues the viewpoint of one of her oppressors, a charismatic village elder who calls herself “the giver of wisdom” for performing clitoridectomies, preferably without numbing potion; the woman is so entrenched in her own cultural subjugation, she brags that her patients have a success rate of only 12 beatings. Owino’s detours into the language of her native Kenya had a few women in the audience nodding along. The rest of us catch up to her train of thought when her contemporary character dissuades herself from putting a gun in her mouth. She realizes that the path to healing isn’t warding off shame and convincing herself that she “wanted it”; from there, she moves on to give an earnest speech about real empowerment. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (323) 960-4429. Nyar Num Productions. (Amy Nicholson)

ELOVE — A MUSICAL.COM/EDY This world-premiere musical by Wayland Pickard explores an online romance between an older man and woman who are newly single. After a Web site called “eLove” matches Frank (Lloyd Pedersen) and Carol (Bobbi Stamm), love seems to blossom as they begin chatting online. The opening number “I’m Single” has a catchy tune with some clever lyrics; unfortunately the highlight of the show comes five minutes in. The rest devolves into repetitive and unimaginative quips punctuated by musical numbers that plunge from the pedestrian to something akin to theme songs from an ’80s sitcom. Pickard does everything in this production but act; his staging lends it a one-dimensional quality that might have been avoided with greater collaboration. He is so focused on trying to milk puns for laughs that his direction employs hackneyed devices, such as talking to pets, and monologues delivered out to the audience. Stamm stumbles over one too many lines, though she and Pedersen have pleasant voices, but Chris Winfield’s cramped set allows them little freedom to physically explore their characters. The piece, in effect, becomes an Ed Sullivan–style standup routine with dialogue so trite, it makes George Lucas look like Edward Albee. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m. (Dec. 5-21 only); Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (323) 822-7898. An Angry Amish Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

 GO  FATA MORGANA Hungarian playwright Ernest Vajda is perhaps best known for the screenplays he wrote for director Ernst Lubitsch (including that for The Merry Widow) but this forgotten gem of a romantic comedy, written in 1915, with a tempestuous young man-meets-older woman love affair at its core, is an engrossing, emotionally nuanced oddity. Innocent teenager George (Michael Hanson), a provincial boy living in his family’s isolated chateau in the Hungarian countryside, finds his life turned upside down when his distant cousin’s wife, Mathilde (Ursula Brooks), a sultry vixen 10 years his senior, arrives from the city for a vacation. In a twist of fate that would not seem out of place in the Hungarian 1915 issue of Penthouse Forum, Mathilde shows up on the doorstep while George’s parents just happen to be out for the evening — and she almost instantly beds the virginal, horny young man, who afterward falls in love with her. Complications ensue when Mathilde’s pompous lawyer husband (Scott Conte) arrives at the house the next morning. Although Vajda’s three-act comedy occasionally falls prey to patches of inert dialogue, director Marilyn Fox’s psychologically assured production, blessed by Audrey Eisner’s gorgeous period costumes, possesses a delicate, melancholy emotional truth. In this fragile relationship, Mathilde, who knows the boy better than he knows himself, adores the idea of living forever in the young man’s memory. Performances are deft and multidimensional, particularly Brooks’ inscrutable older beauty. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (310) 822-8392. (Paul Birchall)

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HISTRIONICS This slate of one-acts, based on recorded events, is told through characters forgotten by history. The idea is intriguing, but the end results are far from satisfactory. The dazzling performance of Leigh Anne Goodoff is the only thing that stands out in Michael McKeever’s “Laura Keene Goes On.” She skillfully channels an egotistical, out-of-sorts thespian backstage on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. Ken Brisbois directs his own, very funny “Sticks & Stones,” in which a pair of convicts (Scott Rognlien and Rob Smith) shares humorous reflections and much agony while hanging on their crosses, awaiting the arrival of J.C. Rognlien directs Sean Presant’s “A D-day at the Beach.” Here, as elsewhere on the bill, silliness and dull humor pervade: A pair of clueless Brits (Maia Peters and Jason Frost) holidays at Normandy during the historic invasion by Allied forces. Owen Hammer’s puerile “Primitive Peoples” finds Ali Khan as a Meso-American chief whose idyllic life is threatened by the arrival of Europeans and an alien. Pilgrims and Indians share a meal and vapid conversation in Maggie Bandur’s “More White Meat,” directed by Stuart Meltzer. Here, Khan is quite funny as a native with a surprising strain of sophistication. Lounge Theater, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 30. (No perf Thanksgiving.) (323) 805-9355. Produced by The Next Arena. (Lovell Estell III)

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