GO FALLING UPWARD Ray Bradbury is better known for his formidable achievements in the arena of science-fiction, but he’s also penned a number of plays, including this charming, comedic fable about the denizens of a tavern in rural Ireland. Heeber Finn’s pub is the setting, where a raucous, fun-loving band of Irishmen gather to spin yarns, dance jigs, play music, sing and, of course, “wash their tonsils.” As the play opens, the fellows sing a charming medley of Irish songs while bending elbows under the watchful eye of Finn (Mik Scriba). The music and singing are what give this play its strange magic. Nothing happens in the way of a plot. Garrity (the masterful Pat Harrington) acts as narrator and guide of sorts, the men share a hilarious moment at the gravesite of a wine merchant, where, after toasting the deceased, they piss on his marker, and there is a minor fuss after a traffic accident. A strange contingent of tourists arrives in Act 2, which causes some soul searching. You might say that the playwright wins the pot with a flat hand here. The music is superb; Jeff G. Rack’s tavern set is artfully crafted, and director Tim Byron Owen creates an atmospheric charm that’s irresistible. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 5. (818) 508-4200. (Lovell Estell III)
GO FROST/NIXON Stacy Keach and Alan Cox star as Richard M. Nixon and David Frost in Peter Morgan’s play. Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave. downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through March 29. www.centertheatregroup.org. Click here for Stage feature.
GREASE Born of NBC’s reality-TV casting competition Grease: You’re the One That I Want, this latest take on Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s Broadway-hit malt-shop musical features perfunctory performances by Eric Schneider and Emily Padgett as star-crossed summer lovers Danny and Sandy. This may explain why headliner status went to American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, despite his mere cameo appearance. He’s the Teen Angel (“teen”? wait, what?) who advises beauty-school dropout Frenchy (Kate Morgan Chadwick) to go back to high school. Hicks’ turn is actually the most effective part of the show, with him crooning to her swooning, as he descends from above amid wafting curls of smoke — but that’s not saying much. Director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall’s staging generally involves the cast just walking around or, worse, sitting or standing in one place as they belt out their numbers. Can we get these kids some roller skates or something? The actors’ voices are uniformly strong, though Schneider’s is unremarkable, and Padgett often tackles the Olivia Newton-John songs like they’re arias. Paul Huntley’s wig stylings and Martin Pakledinaz’s costume design provide delightfully retro coifs on the ladies and snazzy duds on the dudes, but Derek McLane’s cartoon set looks like it was designed by a middle school stagecraft club. And what’s with censoring the explicit lyrics? The car Greased Lightning used to be “a real pussy wagon,” now it’s a “dragon wagon.” What the hell does that even mean? Make no mistake, I love Grease, with its timeless plot of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, girl-sluts-it-up-to-get-boy-back, but this is not the one that you want. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through March 22. (213) 365-3500. (Derek Thomas)
MACBETH Forget radically deconstructed concept productions or contemporary political reinterpretations, director Sean Branney delivers no such surprises in his traditional and somewhat generic staging of Shakespeare’s Scottish noir. With the text more or less intact — even the oft-cut first witches’ scene remains — Branney’s most brazen liberty is to goose the testosterone with the kind of onstage swashbuckling (choreographed by Brian Danner) that Shakespeare had intended be played offstage. Otherwise, this bard is strictly by the book. The good news is Andrew Leman’s muscular, articulate turn as brave Macbeth. Leman’s performance is nobility personified; which is to say his regal demeanor is only occasionally ruffled by the underlying corruption of a “vaulting ambition” that will turn Macbeth, after Richard III, into Shakespeare’s most notorious regicidal maniac. As the play’s invidious femme fatale, McKerrin Kelly complements Leman with a Lady Macbeth who makes even icy ruthlessness seem sexy. Other standouts include Daniel Kaemon’s dashing Malcolm, and Mike Dalager and Danny Barclay, whose pair of scurvy-chic Murderers looks like they stepped out of a Guns N’ Roses video. For the rest of the cast, costume designer Christy M. Hauptman eschews highland tartan for robes of a more indeterminate, medieval kind. That nonspecificity is continued in the raised stone altar and hengelike monoliths of Arthur MacBride’s set, whose suggestion of Neolithic pagan ritual may be a clever design for Macbeth . . . not, however, for this one, which never otherwise hints at such themes. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26; (818) 846-5323. (Bill Raden)