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Theater Reviews: Before I Forget, Lie With Me, Six Years 

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Wednesday, Mar 11 2009
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BEFORE I FORGET The gift in Kirk Douglas’ one-man show being perfored at the theater named after him is his courage, for whatever reason, to tell his story at the age of 92 in the aftermath of a stroke. Regardless of his celebrity and the parade of superstars from his life, whom he trots out through references and in projected slides and videos, the giant has been felled by time, as we all are, or will be, and Douglas’ determination to show that, through slurred speech and an ambling gait, is a testament to being human. That testament is both brave and rare, coming from a man of the movie culture, where appearance is everything. He performs with sly wit, which emerges through winking expressions; it’s also candid to the point of being both charming and maudlin. He tells of meeting his second wife in Paris. She was his assigned translator, who spoke five languages — here the image of this French beauty appears on the screen — “and she knew how to say ‘no’ in all of them.” The show is a crowd-pleaser, which offers many personal revelations but no scandal and few insights, despite its excursions into theology and mortality. The man nonetheless commands respect because he’s simply, obviously speaking his mind, and that’s a considerable risk when there are legacy issues at stake. He’s the kind of uncle anyone would boast of. Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Fri., March 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 15, 2 p.m. www.centertheatregroup.org. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO  BEGGARS IN THE HOUSE OF PLENTY John Patrick Shanley’s semiautobiographical one-act about growing up in a dysfunctional working-class Irish-American Catholic family is smartly directed by Larry Moss. The play opens when Johnny (Chris Payne Gilbert) is 5 years old and is only dimly aware that love is missing from his life. His sister, Sheila (Lena Georgas), is escaping the household through early marriage, so the real problems don’t start until brother Joey (the excellent David Gail) returns home from the Navy. His death-obsessed mother (Francesca Casale) is disappointed by the gifts he brings, and nothing he can say or do will please his father (Jack Conley). Moss’ bold directorial style is most evident in the darkly comedic scenes, with exaggerated line deliveries such as when cousin Sister Mary Kate (Denise Crosby) leads the family in a mangled version of “Hail Mary.” The action jumps ahead 15 years, as Johnny’s just been thrown out of college and he’s doing battle with his elder brother. The final segment is a dream sequence that’s been effectively lit by Leigh Allen to emphasize the hellish qualities of home life. Johnny knows that his escape from his family will come when he has “the words,” for he doesn’t want to just hate his parents — he wants to understand them. Conley is superb as the violent father who wields a meat cleaver with ease. Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 29. (800) 838-3006. (Sandra Ross)

THE CONTEST Set in an art-school studio, Jennifer Rowland’s play begins with a game of “what ifs” between Karl (Albert Meijer) and Amanda (Jules Wilcox), who are not only star students but lovers as well. While they explore their hypothetical futures, their present concerns center on the school’s upcoming contest, whose winner will presumably take the art world by storm. Into this den of lust, anticipation, creativity and insecurity wanders Faith (Heleya de Barros), a first-year student who befriends Karl and Amanda almost too quickly. Faith latches on to the games they play but takes the questions to a new level, creating a triangle of confusion, jealousy and doubt. Rounding out the ensemble is the sometimes mocked but influential Jerome (Dan Kozlowski), who teaches at the school and serves as a judge in the contest. As the events play out, the winner of the contest is declared, setting in motion a series of events that affects these characters professionally and personally for the next 15 years. Director Sarah Zinsser uses the space well enough and facilitates transitions between the short scenes, but she allows her actors emotional turns that are too quick, never letting us feel the gravity of the stakes at play. Among the cast, only Kozlowski stands out, stealing almost every scene in which he appears. The Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through March 14. (800) 595-4849. A Pudd’nhead Productions Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

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GO  LIE WITH ME Mutineer Theatre Company makes an impressive debut with Keith Bridges’ pitch-black new play. The verb in the title is deliberate double entendre in a drama about a family that keeps deflecting the consequences of their hideous behavior in matters of both sexuality and honesty. The device of a matriarch (Emily Morrison) slowly dying in an upstage cot is the only reason her daughters would come anywhere near the home where they grew up, and where their father, Stan (Christian Lebano), had a lingering sexual relationship with one of them, Carla (Taylor Coffman). The now adult young women are like far-flung satellites whom Stan struggles to bring home in order to say whatever needs to be said to their fading mother. It takes an interloper — Carla’s boyfriend, Ian (Jon Cohn) — to provide a perspective on the “gentle” abuse (Carla was not raped or forced by her dad to engage in sex with him) that have transpired in this house. Both daughters now seethe with fury, and not only at their father. Young Susan (Amber Hamilton) cuts herself and tries to hit on Ian, just to spite Carla. Susan’s envy of the attention Carla received from her father is one place where Bridges’ drama slips off the rails. And the redundancy of Stan’s earnest, plaintive appeals to both daughters (“Why do you hate me so much? What did I do?”) would be more credible from an emotional dope, but those appeals become theadbare from such an otherwise savvy character. The play’s enormous strength lies in its smart, well-observed dialogue, how its characters deflect painful truths in moody, merciless games of emotional torture, how brash cynicism becomes a line of defense. “I’ll be here if you need me,” Ian tells Carla in one of their many spats. “Need?” she spits back, contemptuously. The performances are truer than true, particularly the women’s ferocity (they are like wounded animals) and how Lebano turns Stan’s endless rationalizations into a kind of psychosis. None of this would ring true without Joe Banno’s textured, cinematic staging, which helps eek out the mystery, drop by drop, with the help of Davis Campbell’s detailed set and the theological bridges of sound designer James Richter’s original music. Art/Works Theatre 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 5. (323) 960-7787. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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