Theater Reviews: Echo One-Act Festival, Pope Joan, Taking Over | Theater | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Theater Reviews: Echo One-Act Festival, Pope Joan, Taking Over 

Also, Vibrating Sun, Pippin, Macbeth and more

Wednesday, Jan 28 2009
ECHO ONE-ACT FESTIVAL The lion’s share of this evening of six one-acts hews to a template: Two people — one drunk — hash out their diametrically opposed world views and teeter off with souls wounded and minds opened. There’s clever writing to spare, but in each, the energy and promise of depth flags before the curtain. Directed by Stefan Novinski, David Ives’ “The Other Woman” changes the manic-stranger theme to an even-keeled wife who has just become a wild, paranoid, horny sleepwalker; her husband is stymied and stricken with guilt — is he cheating on his wife with his wife? — but this play, too, cuts off before its questions flourish. Standouts are Julia Cho’s “Three Women,” a streamlined and effective short play about the pressures of womanhood in which a mother (Kit Pongetti) and grandmother (Ruth Silviera) undermine their dreams that daughter Allison (Lucy Griffin) will live a fuller life than their own by nudging her toward marriage and kids. Director Josh Moyse has a good grip on Cho’s clever fast-forwarding of time. Also quite good is Padriac Duffy’s “The Dirty Laundry of Marjorie,” a tone-perfect tragicomedy about two blue-collar housewives (Alison Martin and Tara Karsian, both excellent) stuck in a too-small town, staged with empathy and humor by Chris Fields. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (800) 413-8669. Presented by Echo Theatre Company. (Amy Nicholson)

HUNTER GATHERERS Though it poses as a Buñuelian comedy of manners, San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s broad suburban satire is to the surrealist master’s dissections of bourgeois hypocrisy what a baseball bat is to a surgeon’s scalpel. Nachtrieb’s comic meat is the venerable dinner party gone bad. Pam (Sara Hennessy) and Richard (Doug Newell) play host to high school chums Wendy (Vonessa Martin) and Tom (Steven Schub) to observe the couples’ mutual, 12th wedding anniversary. That there is little to celebrate becomes quickly apparent. The priapic ex-jock Richard is an insatiable carnivore with a literal blood lust (the play opens with him slaughtering a lamb on the living-room floor for the evening roast) that disgusts the sexually repressed Pam. The concupiscent, maternally frustrated Wendy loves flesh (especially, as it turns out, Richard’s), much to the dismay of the salad-eating, sexually impotent Tom. If such unlikely marital mismatches and simmering sexual yearnings are the stuff of comic dynamite, Nachtrieb never finds the fuse. Blame an overdeveloped taste for the obvious. Nachtrieb’s characters are too immediately transparent and one-note; they muster neither the dignity to feed a farce nor the dimensionality to sustain the most superficial of sitcoms. Director Dámaso Rodriguez’s puzzling inability to stage the surfeit of visual and physical gags allows the audience to get so far ahead of the punch lines, the laughter never quite catches up. Pasadena Playhouse, Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (626) 356-PLAY. A Furious Theatre Company production. (Bill Raden)

MACBETH Director Jonathan Redding helms an intimate, moody production of Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play,” in which that unlucky Thane of Cawdor takes murderously poor career advice from a trio of witchy employment counselors. Although some inexperienced members of the cast have trouble wrestling the metrical challenges of Shakespeare’s poetry, the show boasts a cool, omnipresent sense of dread, and contains a variety of shrewd, character-related innovations. Alexander Pawlowski portrays Macbeth as a borderline primitive brute turned psychotic tyrant: We first see him swinging a club and wearing a pelt-like tunic that puts us in mind of Bamm-Bamm from The Flintstones. As his scheming wife, Lady Macbeth, Meredith Hines radiates a disturbing viciousness that contrasts chillingly with her smarmy kitten-like first greeting with the hapless King Duncan (Jacques Freydont). When the two Big Macs get around to performing their bloodiest deeds in the dead of night, Redding thrusts the stage into murkiness, with little more than a ghost light to depict the murderous pair. Sadly, Redding’s atmospheric and often cerebral approach to the play is marred by some moments of lagging pace and overly broad acting turns from some of the other performers. Ultimately, though, this vivid and commendably clear presentation of the play is ideal for audiences new to the play, or for those who just want to catch up with it once again. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second Street, Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru February 14. (800) 595-4849. A Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble Production. (Paul Birchall)

MURDER ON THE BOUNDING MAIN On an ocean liner crossing from New York to Southampton, England, malicious archconservative radio gossip columnist Mason Armstrong is shot down during a midnight promenade on deck. The suspects include a dim-witted movie star (Brian Ames), who spends his days shooting albatross, and his manager (Richard Leppig), who’s rumored to be having what in truth would be an improbable affair with the star, a blonde chanteuse named Bernadette (Maureen Ganz). Then there’s a fourth-rate comedian named Rudy Tudy (Barry Schwam), who spouts endless, bad one-liners; a mysterious widow (Rosina Pinchot); and Armstrong’s formidable, red-baiting assistant (understudy Christine Soldate). The ship’s captain (Richard Large) enlists the aid of honeymooning detective Mordecai Pierce (writer-actor Jack Chansler) and his new bride, Teresa (Joanna Houghton), to help solve the crime. Chansler’s script is set in 1953, but it would have seemed dated even then, and it’s hard to care about his tissue-paper characters. Even Detective Pierce is a sexist homophobe. The only remotely sympathetic figures are the detective’s wife, and the elderly widow who’s still mourning the death of her screenwriter husband, driven to suicide by the Hollywood blacklist. There’s little or no suspense (who cares whodunit?), and even less probability. The Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30; thru Feb. 21. (626) 256-3809 or (Neal Weaver)

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