Theater Reviews: Jane Austen Unscripted, A Skull in Connemara, Model Behavior 

Also, The Todd and Molly Show, Dai, Stormy Weather and more

Wednesday, Feb 4 2009

DAI In her one-woman show, gifted writer and solo performer Iris Bahr poignantly illustrates how infinitesimally fragile the line is between life and death. The piece takes place in a Tel Aviv café minutes before a suicide bombing. The café hosts an international clientele: an American actress filming a love story involving (ironically) a Palestinian suicide bomber; a gay German man stalking his Israeli ex-lover; a partisan Jewish settler; a mother of young children, rabid in her support of Israeli hegemony at the expense of Palestinian claims. Bahr portrays 10 loquacious individuals in all, each monologue concluding midsentence, as the bomb detonates, obliterating the life of the person we’ve come to know intimately in just a few moments. Embedded in each portrait are the irony and humor that come from the human tendency to perceive the world narrowly, through one’s self-interest. Several elements detract from the production, however: a tendency toward sameness in the clipped tempo of each monologue, and the awkward staging of the explosion at the end of each sequence, consisting of a loud noise and the unconvincing response of the performer, as he/she collapses. While a director is credited for the original staging, none is mentioned here. What’s necessary in order to realize the drama’s latent power is a director with a sensibility as nuanced as Bahr’s own. Lillian Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. through Feb. 15. (323) 960-4410 or www.plays411.com/dai. (Deborah Klugman)

GO  JANE AUSTEN UNSCRIPTED Oh, what fun to see an improv troupe create a two-act drama in the style of a Jane Austen novel, inspired on the night I attended by the audience suggestion “snails.” The show is never the same, though director Dan O’Connor did say the company has rehearsed an English country dance that is sometimes plugged in, sometimes is not. And there are, of course, constant characters the company taps into, depending on who’s available on any given night. On the night I saw the show, 11 first-rate comedians performed. O’Connor portrayed Mr. Dawson, a highly reputable fellow engaged in a snarky and pointless dispute with Miss Amelia Green (the charming Jo McGinley). Much of the plot concerns the ability of these two porcupines to find love — in a Regency English style no less, encumbered by tightly fitting corsets, dinner jackets and ties. Among the moments of high tension was when Amelia’s father (Floyd Van Buskirk) found the prickly lovebirds unescorted in a parlor room, sparking a scandal. There were also gorgeous cameos by Stephen Kearin as the genteel, horse-faced Mr. Robert Walker, and by Lauren Lewis as Amelia’s delightfully birdbrained sister, Rebecca. When an audience member’s cell phone triggered a whining sound over the speakers, it inspired a spontaneous subplot about a swarm of invading bees, and some controversy over whether or not it was decent of Mr. Walker to cure Rebecca’s bee sting by slopping mud on her bare arm. Aside from its breathtaking wit, the show reveals the codes of behavior that accrue into an acting style, and even a social style. This is a comedy about essence rather than substance, revealing how one is so often confused with the other. If there is such a thing as humane comedy, this would be it. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Feb. 15. (323) 401-6162. An Impro Theatre production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO  MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE: LOVE WRITTEN IN THE STARS The fury of reading through piles of crappy screenplays for exploitive wages has to be what motivated this vicious comedy series. As playwright Jon Robin Baitz once said, L.A. theater offers a response to the “toxicity of living in a company town,” and Magnum Opus Theatre is a strong response to just that. In director Joe Jordan’s crisp-as-toast style, a company of nine performs this excruciating screenplay with unfettered mockery, with Your Host, Thurston Eberhard Hillsboro-Smythe, a.k.a. “Thursty” (Brandon Clark, in red dinner jacket and the droll pomposity of Alistair Cooke in Masterpiece Theatre) reading all the stage directions, including misspellings. This is the story of a chubby girl named Amber (Franci Montgomery, who is not chubby at all, which is part of the joke), abused like Cinderella by her beer-swilling aunt (CJ Merriman), who curses her, slaps her and calls her a pig — a Punch and Judy show by any other name. Amber has a fantasy lover, the ghost of a Hollywood actor (Michael Lanahan) accidentally slain during the filming of a gangster gun battle. Through plot convolutions too tedious to enumerate, Amber winds up in Hollywood, in a movie about her travails, for which she receives an Academy Award. As the plot slid into its final trajectory, the crowd shouted out “noooooh,” as it became cognizant of where this was heading. Any play can be ridiculed simply by employing theatrical devices used here: Whenever “Thursty” reads: “Jeff gives her a passionate kiss,” Lanahan uses his fingers to withdraw a sloppy kiss from his mouth, which he then palms off to Montgomery’s hand, who then slips the “kiss” into her blouse. But even this wildly presentational brand of theatrical ridicule can’t disguise the artlessness of the dialogue and stage directions. What emerges through the event’s cruelty — besides the mercifully unnamed screenwriter’s ineptitude — is a portrait of the writer, for whom Amber is an obvious stand-in. As the lampoon wears itself out, we’re left with something underneath that’s gone beyond parody to the pathetic — the reasons somebody would have written such a story in the first place, and the hollow, generic fantasies that serve as balm for her feelings of isolation. Watching this show is like watching well-trained runners pushing somebody out of a wheelchair. That’s a comic bit from old sketch-TV shows, but 90 minutes of it leave you feeling that the company’s comic fury is so strong, and its skills so sharp, the joke has been propelled beyond its target to a very dark place, fascinating in its own right. Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope, L.A.; Fri., 11 p.m.; through Feb. 27. (310) 281-8337. (Steven Leigh Morris)

click to flip through (4) COURTESY OF LILLIAN THEATRE - DAI (Enough)
  • Courtesy of Lillian Theatre
  • DAI (Enough)

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